If you love RENT as I do, then like me you want to see it every chance you get. I believe this is my tenth cast, when you’ve seen a show done ten differents times you’ve learned to let go of your preconceived notions of how a character should look or the set should be. Especially when it comes to the smaller theatre’s productions. Instead what you go for is to see what kind of energy a company brings, how does their set work, in what ways is it unique and how well does that work. You look for that new interpretation by an actor or a director, hoping they will show you something new, but not stray too far from what you loved. You go for the musical you love, but you take pleasures in the details. There are a lot of details to enjoy in Inver Grove Heights Community Theatre’s production of RENT. The production is a success giving the audience enough highs to overshadow the few lows. I can’t say this is my favorite production, but if you are a Rent-Head it will more than do until the next one comes around.
There are a few weak performances, but they are smaller roles. A lot of solid performances where at times the songs just go slightly out of the performers range. Then there are a couple of tremendous performances. Aram Eskridge as Tom Collins and Bee Tremmel as Angel are amazing, both vocally and acting. Their duet on “I’ll cover you” is one of the highlights of the the first act, and I doubted anything in the rest of the show would top it. Then in the second act Eskridge nearly received a mid performance standing ovation for his performance of “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)“. That was the moment that made the drive to Inver Grove Heights on a Friday evening after a long week worth it. The moment when it got a little dusty in the theatre. Tremmel’s interpretation of Angel was probably the most unique and original take on the character I’ve seen. I don’t mean they have completely reinterpreted the character, but their line readings had a fresh spin on them, and it worked like gangbusters. These are two actors I will look for to seeing again. The other two that really impressed were Lewis Youngren as Mark and Shannon Dancler as Mimi. Youngren’s character is also the narrator of the show and as such, the role has always felt like the onstage director, he carried on that tradition well and did proud all the Mark’s that came before. Dancler’s acting was up there with Eskridge and Tremmel’s as she had the role of Mimi down, and was quite moving. She had one song that was just so beautifully sung “Goodbye, Love“. Other songs seemed to give her some minor trouble range wise, such as “Out Tonight” but even in that case her physical and emotion performance covered the vocal imperfections. There were multiple others that that stood out in the cast and the ensemble such as Cheron Whittley and Brooklyn Schwiesow as JoAnne and Maureen.
The production was directed by Quinn forrest Masterson, how the hell he managed that while starring in Shrek at Artistry, which opened the same night I cannot imagine. But alongside his ability to be in two places at one time, he can add first rate director. There are some weaker elements to the production but none of them come from the staging of the scenes. There were a few touches I don’t remember seeing in previous productions such as a young Roger and April interacting above present Roger as he sings “One Song Glory” and he also has a dancer up top during “Tango: Maureen“. These were nice added little touches that worked really well. Adam Oster’s set was in the style of the original set but also it’s own take on it, it perfectly walked that line of being recognizably RENT but also giving us something fresh. Pierce Jensen’s lighting was very effective, directing our gaze but also helping to evoke emotions, particularly in the quieter moments. Finally costume Designer Christy Branham did a great job of capturing a hint and a flavor of the original costumes without going anywhere near trying to copy them, again finding that perfect line of being RENT, but also being its own production.
One thing I’ll say for Community theatre, because these are generally not professional actors (yet) what sometimes is lacking in polish or technique can be compensated for with enthusiasm. Maybe it’s just that RENT is such a powerful and electric work of musical theatre but you can feel the joy and energy flowing off the stage. RENT has two performances remaining Saturday July 23rd at 7:00 PM and Sunday July 24th at 2:00 PM for more information and to purchase tickets Adults are $15 and students are only $10 got to https://www.ightheatre.org/
Don’t miss a single review from The Stages of MN, on your computer from the home page on the right enter your email address and click subscribe, on your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesonmn.