Presented by Fiddlehead Theatre Company at the Back Bay Events Center
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Music Direction by Nathan Urdangen
Directed by Stacey Stephens
February 5-21, 2016
Fiddlehead Theatre Company on Facebook
Review by Travis Manni
(Boston, MA) Rent has a very special place in my heart, and the hearts of many musical fans. I’ve been criticized by various people who point out their faults with the show, including the childish mentality that you can live in New York City (center of the universe) without paying rent for an entire year and expect zero consequences. Whatever shortcomings in its plot, it’s a fantastic rock musical and I was excited for all the nostalgic feels during the Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s production this past weekend, and while I wasn’t blown away, I wasn’t disappointed either.
For those who’ve never seen Rent, in which case please fix this immediately, it’s the story of a group of friends living in New York City who are broke and pushing back against the corporate monopolization of their neighborhood. They find different outlets to express themselves artistically but still struggle to maintain the relationships they form with each other.
One of the reasons Rent is so beloved is because of its racial diversity, LGBT characters, and how it directly addresses the fight against AIDS. All of these were noble endeavors when the show premiered on Broadway back in 1996 and still remain relevant 20 years later. Fiddlehead delivered on all of these accounts. However, Rent is an ensemble production with many strong characters, so if even one is weaker than the others, they’ll stick out like an audience member during intermission who says things like, “No, I’ve only seen the movie,” or “I have a couple friends who are gay…”*
Standouts in the ensemble included Matthew Belles as the introverted Roger who was the perfectly shy would-be rock star that lives most of his life in his head. John Devereaux as Tom Collins gave a warm performance that infected the audience with the sense of longtime friendship and delivered a powerful rendition of “I’ll Cover You: Reprise”. And Jay Kelley as the kindhearted Angel did not lack for confidence, giving the role a modern sassy twist that made me fall in love with her anew.
Scott Caron also delivered a nice performance as Mark, serving as an appropriate storyteller to guide the audience through the musical. However, after seeing Caron as Flounder in Fiddlehead’s recent production of The Little Mermaid, I wish he had more aptly adapted his voice to sound like a budding but mature artist rather than like he was still stuck underwater as the skittish tropical fish in a kid-friendly show. Ryoko Seta as the 19-year-old stripper Mimi was quite hard to believe as well. It seemed like she might be able to let go during “Out Tonight,” but she struggled to find a balance between Mimi’s complexities of being a young partier and her lonely desperation to grasp onto something real. It was hard to watch at parts and she wasn’t up to the higher standards set by her costars.
Mimi’s “Out Tonight” scene, which was set in the Cat Scratch Club where she works, did work in Seta’s favor though. It was a grounding, artistic choice to place her in the club for her song to further show how deeply entrenched she is in her desperation for cash and drugs as other strippers twirled around her to get the attention of male clients. “Contact” was also fantastically executed, an unapologetic scene of sexuality that included the entire ensemble but restricted Angel to a hospital bed. It was a striking juxtaposition.
Even if you haven’t seen Rent, Fiddlehead’s production is a great introduction to the rock opera musical. The characters are all beautifully flawed and it’s impossible not to find something relatable in each one. The story preaches unconditional love, and even though I can’t say I felt that way for this show, I defy anyone to question my love for the musical. Fiddlehead made me fall in love with it all over again.
Rent runs for 2 hours, 45 minutes with one intermission. You can purchase tickets here.
*This was a real dialogue overheard by this show’s reviewer during the intermission of Rent, which was accompanied by quite a bit of eye rolling and fist clenching on the part of said reviewer.