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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review

From Grand Old Theater to Paint Store and Back to Grand Old-New Theater: The Colonial Theatre Re-Launches Itself With Rent

You can't buy love, but you can rent it.
Cranwell Resort

Colonial Theater
Pittsfield's new/old pride and joy
The folks at the Colonial wanted something spectacular and of our times to launch their beautifully restored venue. And so Rent, which premiered at the 150-seat New York Theatre Workshop ten years ago and transferred to Broadway's Nederlander Theatre where it continues to play. In addition to picking up every major prize, including a Pulitzer, Rent has also travelled across America with various touring companies and it's one of these that is launching the Colonial's second coming. Quite a change from the theater's Sept. 28, 1903 debut, Reginald De Koven and Harry B. Smith's operetta, Robin Hood.

Some of the gilded age splendor long waiting for a Sleeping Beauty reawakening
(Photo courtesy Colonial Theatre)
The gritty industrial-themed set and grungy look of Jonathan Larson's East Village characters addressing the AIDS pandemic and sexual politics may at first seem oddly out of place amid the Colonial's gilded and gold-leafed elegance. But, actually the show's blend of hope with defeat and faith with cynicism makes it an apt launch for a theater long buried and forgotten behind the facade of a paint store. After all, the $21.6 million dollar Colonial restoration (so far) was buoyed by the can-do spirit of bringing back hope to a company town which, like so many others, fell victim to ebbing prosperity and population when that company (GE) stopped being a major employer. Like Larson's East Villagers, Pittsfield too has its cynics about the likelihood that this and another re-vitalized theater (the Union Street Theater bought and renovated by Barrington Stage) can really spearhead Pittsfield's long-term comeback. There are also those who grumble about the negatives of gentrification which is another theme explored through the character of Benny who epitomizes the landlord who loses his empathy for the poor and disenfranchised.

Rent Touring Show
As fitting a launch as this classic modern musical is, the downside to this debut production is that a touring company tends to be geared towards maximum amplification. The orchestrations and head mikes thus create the all too usual hollow sound heard in so many modern Broadway musicals and often made the lyrics hard to hear. Not much of an advertisement of the great acoustics that are part of the Colonial's appeal. This point was underscored when the Colonial's executive director made his introductory announcement un-miked and a loud "yes" from all (including the second balcony) was the response to his "can you hear me? "

The over-miking notwithstanding, the messy urban landscape and its clever loose update of Puccini's La Boheme story, Rent's mix of pathos and grit still resonates, as does the throbbing and diverse score. Since CurtainUp reviewed the show twice on Broadway I'll let you click to the page with that double review for details about plot and music and a complete song list (see link below). Suffice it to say that the young unknown cast at the Colonial may be channeling the original performers a bit too much (all of whom were also unknowns ten years ago), but they sing their hearts out, even though those head mikes don't give us a chance to fully appreciate their voices.

It will undoubtedly take a while for the Colonial to afford to regularly book big name plays and musicals to run for at least three or four performances instead of the one-night, less theater-geared events lined up so far -- and for producers to discover this beautiful, large Berkshire venue with its excellent sightlines even from the sky-high second balcony. But, like Rome, neither the Colonial restoration or Pittsfield's overall future as a once again lively and prosperous city can be built in a day. The recent opening of Barrington Stage's new home and announcements for intriguing productions for its extended season and next summer, and now, the re-opening of this hundred and three-year-old theater, are splendid first steps in the right direction. No wonder the house has been packed. Who doesn't want to be part at an exciting moment in civic and theatrical history.

For our double review of Rent on Broadway go here -- or read it at the end of the production notes below.

By Jonathan Larson
Directed by Michael Grief
Choreography by Marlies Yearby
Original Concept and Additional Lyrics: Billy Aronson
Colonial Company Credits
Cast (in order of appearance): Bryce Ryness (Roger Davis) Jed Resnick (Mark Cohen), Warrern G. Nolan Jr. (Tom Collins), Michael Ifiill (Benjamin Coffin III), Chante Carmel Frierson (Joanne Jefferson), Ano Okera (Angel Schumard), Ariana Fernandez (Mimi Marquez), Tracy McDowell (Maureen Johnson) Nina Lynn Metrick (Mark's mom and others), Aswad (Christmas caroler, Mr. Jefferson, pastor and others), Altamiece Carolyn Ballard (Mrs. Jefferson, woman with bags and others), Gavin Reign (Gordoon the man. Mr. Grey and others), Ben Rosenberry (Steve, man with squeegee, a waiter and others), Mike Evariste (Paul and others), Sheila Coyle (Alexi Darling, Roger's mom and others)
Band: Jared Stein, Justin Malakhow, Trevor Nelson, Joe Parker, Marques Walls
Set Design: Paul Clay
Costume Design: Angela Wendt
Lighting Designer: Blake Burba.
Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield
Box Office: 413-997-4444
Web Site:
August 29th to September 3rd, 2006 -- 8 performances, all 8pm, except for two performances (2 and 7:30 pm) on Sept. 3rd. Tickets: $25 to $65
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on August 30th performance

--the double review by Les Gutman

Rent, Now with Snap, Crackle and Pop
Manley Pope and Joey Fatone
Manley Pope and Joey Fatone
The raison d'être for our re-visit and re-review of Rent is the arrival of *NSYNC's Joey Fatone in the cast. Happily, not only can we report that this pop star is a welcome addition, but also that the show has as much snap in its step as ever and, much to our surprise, has benefited enormously from some evident re-direction and re-staging which makes it, in a number of ways, better than it's ever been.

For those, like me, who saw Rent in its early heyday, now well over six years ago, the original cast will always be the definitive one, and especially so with Anthony Rapp's performance as Mark. Mr. Fatone, however, fills Mark's shoes admirably. When singing, it's hard to imagine a better replacement. In the speaking parts (less plentiful but not unimportant, he still leaves a bit more to be desired. Perhaps it is not surprising for someone who made his name as a singer (and dancer); he appears far more comfortable, confident and effective in that mode.

The remainder of the current cast includes the same Roger (Manley Pope) I saw three years ago (when I wrote the review which follows below). His is a terrific performance even if his voice lacks the rather remarkable dexterity of Adam Pascal who originated the role. (On the night I saw this performance, the role of Mimi, normally played by Karmine Alers, was performed by the understudy, Antonique Smith, so I can't speak to Ms. Aler's performance.) All of the other major characters acquit themselves well; Mark Richard Ford's Tom Collins was a standout.

After all this time, one might expect a dampening of the cast's enthusiasm; not so here. This cast is as vital as any. Rent, it seems, has grown with age, rather than tarnished. Lessons have been learned, and executed. The choreography -- hard to notice in much of the original staging -- has been augmented and is far more expressive. And the show reveals new and significant directorial attention, both in terms of the nuances of performance -- the show is funnier and more risqué -- and, significantly, in the way it is staged. The effect is far greater clarity, most noticeable in the second act which I had previously criticized. A great deal of credit goes to the production team for not resting on its manifold laurels.

So if you have heretofore escaped jumping on the Rent bandwagon, now is as good a time as any, and if you've seen it but not in a while, you owe it to yourself to take another look. The credit box at the bottom of my earlier review, below, is still accurate, except for the current cast which is as follows: Karmine Alers (seen with understudy Antonique Smith), Mayumi Ando, Maggie Benjamin, Amy Ehrlich (seen with Dominique Roy), Joey Fatone, Mark Richard Ford, Stu James, Justin A. Johnston, Darryl Ordell, Todd E. Pettiford, Manley Pope, Chad Richardson, Jai Rodriguez, Myiia Watson-Davis and Maia Nkenge Wilson --L.G. (9/12/02)

--- 1999 Review ---
The tragic drama behind the scenes of Rent seems apocryphal but, alas, is true. Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer Prize/Tony Award-winning modern musical about life and death in the East Village, loosely based on La Boheme, did indeed start its run at New York Theatre Workshop on the very day of his untimely death. Its quick subsequent ascent to Broadway qualifies it as the overnight sensation of the nineties. As it happens, it's more than worthy.

Rent concerns a year in the life of two roommates, Mark (Jim Poulos) and Roger (Manley Pope), their friends and lovers, old and new. Mark, a filmmaker and the occasional narrator lives life mostly as the vicarious fulcrum of three relationships. Roger is a rock musician, an ex-junkie and HIV+. Not getting out much these days, he meets, and is immediately attracted to, his downstairs neighbor, Mimi (Maya Days). She knocks on his doors because she needs a match to light a candle. Recognizing that she is a junkie, he at first resists her advances, although she is eventually more persuasive, at least intermittently. (It subsequently develops that she is a dancer in an S&M bar, and HIV+ as well.)

An old friend, Collins (Rufus Bonds, Jr.) calls and is invited over. Before the call ends, he is mugged and disconnected. A drag street performer, Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), comes to his aid and, by the time they arrive at Mark and Roger's apartment, have become lovers. Both are HIV+. Seconds after the call from Collins, the phone rings again; this time it is Benny (Jacques C. Smith), another old friend who is now their unfriendly landlord. He demands the rent, which they don't have. Still another ring brings a call from Maureen (Christina Fadale), a performance artist and Mark's ex-girlfriend, now a lesbian. She asks for help preparing for a protest concert in the vacant lot next door. Mark heads to the lot, where he meets Maureen's new lover, Joanne (Danielle Lee Greaves).

Act One takes place on Christmas Eve. As the evening progresses, everyone eventually heads to Maureen's performance and then to the Life Cafe, where a confrontation with Benny (who, it turns out had previously dated Mimi) prompts a lively defense of "La Vie Boheme". Act Two covers the next twelve months. The sense of community with which Act One ends is soon "rent" asunder: Mark sells out, Roger decides to move away, Maureen and Joanne fight and split up, Mimi returns to her drugs and Angel dies. The following Christmas Eve finds the group together again, sadder, wiser and armed, ultimately, with a bittersweet lesson: "No Day But Today".

divning the usually-uncrossable bridge between pop music and musical theater, Larson's powerful, emotional score is Rent's heart. Sometimes mis-described as rock opera (a misnomer fueled at least in part by its fleeting bow to Puccini), it is neither. Alternately hard-driving and elegantly somber, the music and lyrics owe as much debt to Menken and Ashman, Bock and Harnick and Larson's putative mentor, Sondheim, as to Lennon and McCartney much less Springsteen or Bon Jovi. Precious little of it is "pop operatic" in the Lloyd Webber or Les Misérables sense and, except for a few of Roger's guitar riffs of "Musetta's Waltz," it bears little resemblance to Eric Clapton either. It may sound louder and harsher than what one expects from musical theater, and it may follow Diane Warren's lyric-writing conventions more closely than Oscar Hammerstein's, but Rent is really a fairly conventional book musical once you scratch the surface.

That book is less than perfect, especially in Act Two when it starts to move, but it matters little. The key to Rent's success has always been the remarkable intensity and enthusiasm with which the young cast performs Larson's songs, and the way Larson's poignant story connects with its audience. You're likely to be drawn in too.

Although the original cast of unknowns who found themselves catapulted into the national spotlight have mostly departed long ago, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who won a Tony when he originated the role of Angel, has recently returned to the cast. He brings with him a joyful, exuberant spirit. Michael Greif's direction leaves a great deal to be desired from a story-telling standpoint, his talent for getting thrilling performances out of fresh-faced novices (as well as Bernard Telsey's casting talents in getting them there to start with) cannot be gainsaid.

Much has been made of Rent's significance in the continuing development of musical theater. Although it certainly speaks to a new generation of theater-goers as few other shows have, it's not clear its progeny have been able to sustain the momentum. All the more reason to see the genuine article.


By Jonathan Larson
Original Concept and Additional Lyrics: Billy Aronson
Directed by Michael Greif
with Yassmin Alers, Rufus Bonds, Jr., Maya Days, Shelley Dickinson, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Owen Johnston II, Darryl Ordell, Christina Fadale, Manley Pope, Jim Poulos, Danielle Lee Greaves, Chad Richardson, Jacques C. Smith, Carly Thomas, Byron Utley and Kim Varhola
Set Design: Paul Clay
Lighting Design: Blake Burba
Costume Design: Angela Wendt
Sound Design: Kurt Fischer
Choreography: Marlies Yearby
Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes with 1 intermission
Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street (7th/8th Avs.) (212) 307-4100
Rent website:
Opened on Broadway: April 29, 1996
Reviewed by Les Gutman October 12, 1999
Editor's Note. The Original Cast When Rent Opened in 1996 at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre on the 100th anniversary of Puccini's La Bohéme: Gilles Chiasson (Steve, man with squeegee, a waiter, and others), Taye Diggs (Benjamin Coffin III), Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Angel Schunard), Rodney Hicks (Paul, a cop, and others), Kristen Lee Kelly (Mark's mom, Alison, and others), Jesse L. Martin (Tom Collins), Idina Menzel (Maureen Johnson), Aiko Nakasone (Alexi Darling, Roger's mom, and others), Timothy Britten Parker (Gordon, the man, Mr. Grey, and others), Adam Pascal (Roger Davis), Anthony Rapp (Mark Cohen), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Mimi Marquez) Gwen Stewart (Mrs. Jefferson, woman with bags, and others), Byron Utley Christmas caroler, Mr. Jefferson, a pastor and others, Fredi Walker (Joanne Jefferson). Swings: Yassmin Alers, Darius de Haas, Shelley Dickinson, David Driver, Mark Setlock, Simone.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Tune Up/"Voice Mail #1"
  • "Rent"
  • "You Okay Honey?"
  • "One Song Glory"
  • "Light My Candle"
  • "Voice Mail #2"
  • "Today 4 U"
  • "You'll See"
  • "Tango: Maureen"
  • "Life Support"
  • "Out Tonight"
  • "Another Day"
  • "Will I?"
  • "On the Street"
  • "Santa Fe"
  • "We're Okay"
  • "I'll Cover You"
  • "Christmas Bells"
  • "Over the Moon"
  • "La Vie Boheme"/"I Should Tell You"
Act Two
  • "Seasons Of Love"
  • "Happy New Year"/"Voice Mail #3"
  • "Take Me Or Leave Me"
  • "Without You"
  • "Voice Mail #4"
  • "Contact"
  • "I'll Cover You" (reprise)
  • "Halloween"
  • "Goodbye, Love"
  • "What You Own"
  • "Voice Mail # 5"
  • Finale/"Your Eyes"

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