Theater Review: Local production of ‘Rent’ very much worth seeing


Special to Journal

MARQUETTE — Happy Anniversary, “Rent” and thank you Masonic Arts Theatre Fellowship and Masonic Arts, Theatre & Innovation for allowing Marquette audiences to celebrate with you. Producer Sarah Balding Engle entrusted a stellar production staff to undertake one of the best shows in the Red-Room to date.

Leslie Parkkonen’s direction of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning rock musical “Rent” is worth seeing. Part of our cultural history, “Rent” is the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in Lower Manhattan’s East Village in the thriving days of bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. This show is a mix of sadness and hope, using realistic stories and lyrics to underscore the value and power of love and kindness. Parkkonen’s talented Upper Peninsula cast do just that.

Her direction never feels messy; more like organized chaos, like it is meant to be. I like her new spin on it.

Music, lyrics, and book by Johnathan Larson. Larson, who died before the show opened on Broadway, had only one other show, “Tick Tick Boom,” but “Rent” has withstood the test of time, and what a treasure it is.

Mark Cohen is a memorable Broadway character and Alex Herman plays the role flawlessly. Herman’s acting skills and powerful vocals are present in every scene he is in. His performance in “I Should Tell You” and “What You Own” cement him as one of the best in this cast.

During the first few numbers, Shane Vincent seems an odd choice for playing Roger. However it becomes obvious that Vincent was the perfect fit during “One Song One Glory.” Shane is able to convey the emotional aspects of the songs he sings without forcing. His Roger is natural and smooth and his relationship with Eliisa Gladwell-Herman’s Mimi is authentic. Mimi can be a difficult role to cast, let alone perform, but Eliisa is a natural fit for the part. She is fun and upbeat. A highlight and pleasure to watch, she is everything Mimi should be. You will cheer for her during “Out Tonight” and commiserate with her in “Goodbye, Love.”

Nick Saline, Kaitlin Aisthorpe and Allyse Belanger are forces within the show to be reckoned with. All are stellar in their roles. Salin’s Tom in the (reprise) “I’ll Cover You” is heart wrenching, while his “Santa Fe” is confident, and just a lot of fun.

Aisthorpe’s Maureen is a perfect blend of sass and sex without being over the top. Her first moment in “Over The Moon” is hilarious and encapsulates one her best performances to date. The character could have been written for her.

Belanger’s Joanne is solid. She is the yin to Aisthorpe’s yang. Allyse puts together a Joanne with charisma and excitement. One of her best moments was in “Tango Maureen.”

Some of the show’s best moments are acted out through song. The fight between Mark and Roger during the musical’s climax is genius and proves to be one of the best scenes in the show.

Designers for this production included Vic Holliday’s Lighting Design which is a perfect blend of Rock

Concert, dim apartment and street hue that helps give the production life. Music direction by Lucas Clark Wickstrom is electrifying. Wickstrom put together a rocking group of musicians to create a band worthy of roadies.

Choreography by Kristin Frak is clever and fun. Frak has been missing from the local theatre scene and its great to see her moves on the boards once again.

One standout in the ensemble was Mallorie Munson. It is well worth the wait to hear her belt. Other noteworthy ensemble performances include; Riley Fields, Adam McGuire, Angel Rivera and Amber Christunas.

Christunas also pulled together some fun and eclectic costuming that encompasses each character in the show with color, texture and yes a little sequins.

Despite taking place in the 90s, “Rent” had its’ opening 25 years ago. This cast is diverse and shows true emotion. They sing about their fears, their worries and their anxieties, many that still plague modern adults.

However, no matter the era, there will always be time for a “Season Of Love.” Just pay the damn Rent!

MATI’s “Rent” is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes long with a 12-minute intermission.

Tickets can be purchased online or at the door. “Rent” runs in Marquette Saturday and Sunday and again April 1-3.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Brown is known throughout the region as a performer and director. He holds an MFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and is a floral designer at Forsberg’s in Downtown Marquette.


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