Sunday, June 2, 2019

Rent - School Edition

****Spoilers for Rent ahead.

I'm not going to give this as full (or as critical) a review as I usually give my musical theater reviews, and full disclosure -- I was there because my niece (who I've usually referred to as "the little show kid" in this blog) was appearing in this production. (But she's not so little anymore, and she's become a teen, not a kid.)

In any event, on Saturday night, a little expedition from my family, including my wife, myself, my daughter and my daughter's boyfriend, headed out to The Stagelight Academy at Studio Theatre in Lindenhurst to see my niece perform in a School Edition production of Rent. Rent isn't my daughter's usual kind of show -- as I've mentioned before, she really likes happy endings, and while technically Rent does have a happy ending, it's a little heartbreaking before you get there. But it's also full of many likable counter-culture characters who are really well drawn, and the music is quite good. So I knew this would help with her enjoyment of the play. She also loves her younger cousin, so I knew she'd like cheering her on, too.

As we drove to the theater, I gave my daughter and her boyfriend a little history on the musical, along with a synopsis of the great Puccini opera La Boheme on which it's based. I never would have been able to get my daughter to sit still and listen to me on this (or, let's face it, pretty much anything else.) But her boyfriend is a lot hungrier to learn about things like this (or he's at least willing to pretend he is in order to make me feel good, which is just as good!) I did this deliberately, because I know my daughter well enough to understand that she was going to be pretty devastated by Angel's death during the show. But I figured that this way, when Mimi doesn't die in the end, it would help to send her out on a happier note.

The venue turned out to be a nice, but small (only six rows deep) theater, on the second floor of a building in the commercial district of Lindenhurst (just blocks away from where Rich the drummer and I had seen the Hank Stone Band play a month or two back). The show was a complete sellout, filled, I'm sure, with the family members of the show's young cast.

The set was pretty impressive for a small little theater company, and the five-piece band was really good. As for the show's young cast, they were a group of very talented and enthusiastic teenagers. This goes for the seven leads (the young bohemians), Quinn Ryan as Mark Cohen, Boyd Langdon as Roger Davis, Jesse Safuto as Tom Collins, Mikey Kiely as Angel Schunard, Hannah Cianciotto as Mimi Marquez, Gaia Tini as Joanne Jefferson, and Ajia Moraitakis as Maureen Johnson, along with Michael Riggi as Benjamin Coffin III (Benny, the lovable and misunderstood young yuppie who is much-put-upon by the other characters, even as they mostly live off of his dime. Oh, I could write a whole essay on the tragedy of Benny!). It also goes for the rest of the highly energetic ensemble cast. (I won't tell you which character my niece played, in case I've made some enemies here from previous blog posts, heh heh. But she was great!)

I won't say the performance was 100% perfect -- this is teen theater, after all. (I heard through the grapevine that there was a bit of a wig mishap at the Friday night show that I'd have loved to have seen.) What I can say honestly is that this production did a terrific job of capturing and the presenting the spirit of the show, to the point where I teared up several times (and I wasn't even close to being the only one in the audience who did that). In fact, when I compare it to the last time I saw Rent, which was a very strong professional production at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport a few years back, I had more of an emotional reaction to this likable young cast's production than I did to that one.

Although Rent finished up this weekend, The Stagelight Academy has some productions coming up in the months to come, including a high school edition of Chicago, a junior edition of Guys and Dolls, and a grammar school version of a A Midsummer Night's Dream. But besides those, I'd like to say that almost every theater on Long Island has a kids' or teens' group putting on productions all the time. All of these theater groups help young people to develop their talents, keep them doing something positive and productive, and help to showcase just how much talent we have here on Long Island. The stars of tomorrow are here learning the ropes today, and giving them some encouragement and support is a good thing to do. 'Nuff said.