Saturday, February 23, 2013

REVIEW: The Musical "RENT" Rocks with Tunes and Talent at Clark College

RENT the award-winning musical written by Jonathan Larson, is directed at Clark College by H. Gene Biby with musical direction by Jonathan Quesenberry and choreography by Lisamarie Harrison.

The Tale

This highly touted, and often produced Rock Opera, covers a year in the life of eight very individualist characters, representing many aspects of New York society. But this world is not located in the condos or penthouses of the rich, but focuses on the underbelly of the City in East Village. Humans, out-of-work and out-of-luck, but with a fierce will to survive, even in the most inhumane of situations, the slums. It is the world of drugs and aids, of struggle and loss, of love and, yes, even of hope.

The Company. All photos provided. For more photos click here.
The life of the author, Mr. Larson, mirrors in many ways, this story. A struggling, young writer, working in delis of NYC, with a fervent hope to be recognized as a true artist. Finally, when that end was within grasp and RENT was to open, he gave an interview to a New York journalist after a dress rehearsal of his play. He then went home alone to his apartment and quietly died during the night of an undetected heart ailment. His dream did come true, garnering a Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize, but without him to appreciate the well-deserved accolades.

This story is one of dreamers, too. Mark (Sam Levi) aspires to be a film-maker. His roommate, Roger (Garrett Dabbs) longs to be a famous musician. Into their lives comes Tom (James Martine) a friend, and his new-found love, Angel (Bruce Kyte), a person with aids. To muddy the waters even more, there is also Benny (Andy Roberts), a former roommate, but now a slumlord, out to evict them. And Mimi (Lydia Fleming) with a drug problem, takes a shine to Roger and they embark on a shaky relationship. And let’s not forget the political activist, Maureen (Jazmyne Waters), Mark’s former love, who left him for another woman, Joanne (Dorinda Toner).

It all sounds like a merry mix-up from a Shakespeare comedy but is, instead, based on the [Italian] opera, La Boheme. This musical is tough for any troupe, as it is not only peppered with songs, but also most the dialogue is sung. But Mr. Biby and his cast, mostly young students at the college, are up for the challenge and, for the most part, exceed expectations.
For additional photos click here.

The Talent

Levi, as Mark, the POV for the audience, is very animated and believable. He is impressive throughout in his singing and acting, but especially in the number, Tango Maureen, which is a show-stopper. Also, powerfully impressive, is Fleming as Mimi, who has a voice that rocks the theater. She is vibrant, sexy, a dancing dynamo and a terrific actress to boot. A triple threat, as they say in the biz, with a Broadway future if she allows her talents to continue to soar.

For more photos click here.
Also very good are Toner as Joanne, and her partner, Waters as Maureen. Dorinda has a super voice and is good in exploring the various shades of her character. Jazmyne also has a voice that will knock your socks off. And her monologue about the cow is very well conceived. (You have to see it to believe it.) And the chorus is exceptional lending powerful support to this amazing production. The five-group band, continues this support, in a show that is almost all music, and difficult music, at that.

For more photos click here.
Dabbs as Roger has an exceptional voice, but needs to loosen up a bit more in the acting [department]. The same can be said of Kyte as Angel. The role is one of the stand-outs in the story and Kyte sings and dances it well, but needs to let go. The character is a free spirit and eccentric and needs to explode on the stage. Roberts as Bruce, also has a great voice, but his acting is limited in showing the complexities and doubts his character must feel in his relationships with others. Martine is equally timid about showing us his full range. But these roles may grow with time.

The Tech

The stark set and inventive lighting, by Mark Owsley, works very well in its favor to show the different settings [in which] the story takes place. A “black box” is perfect for this kind of play. Pat Rohrbach’s costumes are as eccentric as some of the characters and they work beautifully for this production. And Biby must be commended for staging such a difficult show in such a small space with a young cast and doing it quite splendidly.

The band, at times, overpowers the actors, but there is no easy solution to moderating this perfectly.

WARNING: It should be noted, too, that this may not be everybody’s cup of tea. It is raw, deals frankly with sexual situations, and has R-rated language, as well. But, personally, I am glad to see Clark deal with edgier material, for the sake of young artists learning the craft, as well as education for the public. Bravo!

Photos provided. Link to photos on Flicker.

The Ticket

The play is showing in the Clark College Decker Theater, located at 1933 Fort Vancouver Way in Vancouver, Wash. The play runs through March 9th with showings February 23, March 1 & 2*, and 7-9. Evening shows at 7:30 p.m. *Saturday matinee on March 2 at 2:00 p.m. General tickets are $15, students are $10 and seniors are $12. For further information, contact them at

If you choose to see this production, please tell them Dennis sent you.

By Dennis Sparks, Guest Reviewer

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