Sock n’ Buskin Theatre Company takes on a Broadway classic that deals with love, life, loss and tough times among a group of friends and starving artists in New York City’s East Village.
Should you see it?
I must admit; this was my first exposure to RENT. It seems odd because I left the theatre with an uncontrollable urge to download the original cast recording. Why I haven’t been compulsively listening to Jonathan Larson’s catchy songs for years is a mystery. Student theatre company Sock n’ Buskin starts out with very strong source material, and does it justice.
The first act started out a little rough – this being opening night, it seems that nerves got to a few of the performers. David Shiff’s performance as Collins seemed tentative, especially in scenes with his love interest Angel, a drag queen played with a lot of life and joy by Alex Brunjes.
Elijah Mucciacio’s performance as independent filmmaker and observer Mark also seemed nervous. I found myself thinking of Russell Crowe in Les Miserables; Mucciacio is a good actor who has his moments, but it seems like he’s thinking too hard while he’s singing which makes his character fall flat.
However, things picked up as soon as we were introduced to Jordan King as troubled, HIV-positive musician Roger, and his blooming relationship with Mimi, an exotic dancer with a drug problem, played with a nice mix of sweetness and spunk by Ciara Roberts. They had great chemistry and played their tortured souls nicely against each other.
Despite its problems, the first half was good. The second act, however, was amazing. I don’t know if everyone just got more comfortable in their roles, or if it’s just that all the plot lines and emotions finally came together, but there was a total shift in intensity that led to near-constant chills. David Shiff in particular steps it up for Collins’ big moment, making his reprise of “I’ll Cover You” one of the show’s highlights – I was very pleasantly surprised.
Annie King-Smith as free-spirited performance artist Maureen is magnetic. Even in scenes when she sang as part of the ensemble, my eye was immediately drawn to her. “Take Me or Leave Me”, her duet with Stephanie Hughes, who plays her girlfriend Joanne, seemed to push their relationship to a level that was missing from the first half of the show. Tim Barretto-Burns is also very convincing in his role as Benny, the friend who “sold-out”.
RENT is an ambitious show, ambitiously directed by Geoff Burnside, sometimes to its detriment. Some group numbers feel a little cluttered and distracted. Simpler staging in the second act definitely helped.
Sock n’ Buskin took a risk taking on a Broadway landmark and did an admirable job putting it on with what I’m sure was a substantially less-than-Broadway budget. Strong performances and great musical direction by Chris Santillian make this worth seeing.
But that’s just my opinion. What did you think of RENT? Am I being too hard on the first act? Tell me in the comments!