‘RENT’ rocks in Littleton

Posted 9/24/10

Life may be short — live for today, but be involved with and supportive of others in your life. Allow yourself to love and to live with passion… …

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‘RENT’ rocks in Littleton


Life may be short — live for today, but be involved with and supportive of others in your life. Allow yourself to love and to live with passion…

Young artists live in a New York East Village loft, without heat, electricity or money for rent. But there are pluses if you seek them.

“RENT,” Jonathan Larson’s powerful Pulitzer Prize rock musical, presented in its first locally produced professional production, plays through Oct. 17 at Town Hall Arts Center with an energetic young cast — gifted with fine voices — and a live band.

Nick Sugar directed and choreographed the musical, which also won four Tony Awards in 1996. Larson based his work roughly on Puccini’s opera, “La Boheme,” and the connection is recognizable throughout for opera lovers. The scourge was tuberculosis in Puccini’s time and in the 20th century, it’s AIDS.

The composer also incorporated elements of his own life at the time, when he was working at a restaurant to pay his own rent. Sadly, he died the day before the show opened in previews.

Sugar says in his director’s notes that seeing that original cast perform in New York changed his life. “RENT spoke to my soul and inspired me to continue in theater.”

By staging “RENT” in Town Hall’s small theater, Sugar gives an audience an entirely different experience than that at the large Buell, where the Broadway tours played. There, actors become part of a pattern rather than individuals, each with a story. It’s indeed a winner in this venue, where Tina Anderson creates a set with steel scaffolding and a few tables to contain the parallel stories that move through this weathered city block.

Narrator Mark Cohen, a filmmaker who is recording East Village life, serves as narrator. Mark Cohen portrays this intense communicator convincingly and Russell Mernagh, who plays his AIDS-stricken songwriter/roommate Roger, is a most welcome addition to the local theater scene after a star debut as Joseph in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” last summer at Candlelight Dinner Theatre. His voice has power and he can act.

Anna Gibson is his Mimi, alternately strong and frail. The group of friends includes Ryan Belinak as the intellectual Tom Collins, Danny Harrigan as Angel, a transvestite whose positive outlook is contagious and Amanda Earls as activist Maureen. Her performance of “Over the Moon” is worth the price of a ticket. Her lover Joanne is portrayed by Ashleigh-Amber Harris, while Matt Fontaine is landlord/former roommate Benny.

Others, who play several parts: Traci Kern, Rob Janzen, Heather Fritton, Alaina Reel, Benjy Schirm, Cameron Stevens and Chris Trimboli. Voices, directed by Donna K. Debreceini, blend into an effective whole in big numbers such as “Seasons of Love,” but each voice is solo quality.

We commend Town Hall for presenting this edgy, but most worthwhile production. It is said by many to have changed American musical theater forever.

Due to adult language and situations, it is rated R. It’s a “don’t miss” for adults and older teens.

If you go:

“Rent,“ by Jonathan Larson plays through Oct. 17 at Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St., Downtown Littleton. (Rated R). Performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $18 to $36. 303-794-2787 ext. 5; www.townhallartscenter.com. Town Hall, in keeping with the Broadway tradition established by “Rent,” will offer 10 tickets for $10 one hour before each performance to make the play more accessible to poor young artists.


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