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13Nov

Rent - Hayfield Secondary School - Alexandria, Virginia - November 11, 2017

Aubrey Winger

Loudoun Valley High School

 

 Although there may be 525,600 of them in a year, you don't want to waste another minute before witnessing the masterpiece that is Hayfield Secondary School's RENT. Overflowing with vocal talent and youthful adrenaline, this production is an ode to the triumph of the human spirit.

 

Created by Jonathan Larson as a semi-autobiographical interpretation of the opera "La Bohéme", RENT is a raw account of those inhabiting the destitute East Village at the height of the AIDS epidemic. The intricacies of everyday life in this decade are documented by filmmaker Mark Cohen, who watches his friends struggle with poverty, sexuality, and even love through the lens of his camera. This production that premiered Off-Broadway the day after Larson's sudden death, went on to become the 11th longest running show on Broadway, securing four Tony Awards in the process.

 

Mark Cohen (Corbin Farrell) brandished his trademark video camera and scarf with vivacity. A slave to his craft, he personified the term "starving artist," narrating the entire production with killer vocals and impish facial expressions. His roommate Roger Davis (Jackson Miller) had demons of his own, but chose to battle them with a guitar instead of a camera. His vocal abilities could only be described as masterful: the contrast between his rock star-esque croon in "One Song Glory" and his raw belt in "Your Eyes" perfectly encapsulated his authentic journey from a man consumed by his disease to one ready to accept love into his life. Mimi Marquez (Trish Hoang) drew Roger out of his shell with her sultry dance moves, incredible belting range, and tight leather pants.

 

Maureen Johnson (Shannon Flack) lived up to every expectation: the audience was "Over the Moon" for her long-anticipated grand motorcycle entrance and protest antics. Her uptight girlfriend, Joanne Jefferson (Hallie Strelsky), showed remarkable character development, transitioning from a girl head-over-heels for promiscuous Maureen to a woman that demands to be treated with respect. The tension between them grew exponentially, culminating in the electric duet "Take Me or Leave Me".

 

Tom Collins (Marek Brown) and Angel (Max von Kolnitz) seemed as if they were falling in love right before our eyes.  The subtleties of their relationship, the innocent handholding and the sheepish smiles, made Angel's funeral incredibly impactful. Collins came into his own after Angel's death, delivering an astonishing breadth of emotion in his guttural, heart-wrenching rendition of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" in the second act.

 

The ensemble, clad in an eclectic range of 90's fashion, consistently delivered the powerhouse vocals demanded by the score with grit and stamina. One member, Scarlett Alexander, brought down the house with her solo in "Seasons of Love".

 

One of the most interesting facets of the production was the use of old televisions as a multimedia display to enhance the entire performance. Song names, images, and dates flashed across the screens, perfectly in sync with the plot.  The set was a picture of organized chaos. Everything, from the walls plastered with posters to Christmas lights and caution tape strung haphazardly across chain-link fences, gave the appearance of city slums. The moon, suspended from the ceiling, provided perfect romance lighting for intimate scenes between the numerous couples in the show. In fact, the lighting throughout the show was astounding, ranging from a golden glow to intense red and blue hues.

 

Rent not only means the payment at the end of the month, but to cause great emotional pain. Hayfield Secondary School's latest production, beautiful yet devastating, gave the audience a taste of both.


Diana Witt

Westfield High School

 

Fog rolls onto the stage, and crunching chords of an electric guitar beckon the audience to the grungy and destitute streets of Manhattan's Bohemian Alphabet City. Inside the chain link fence of the penniless district lie struggling artists trying to pave their way in New York City. With dazzling lighting effects, impressively seamless harmonies, and authentic, emotional moments, Hayfield Secondary School explored heavy themes of love and loss in their electrifying production of RENT.

 

Premiering in 1996, RENT is a rock musical that features a book and music by Jonathan Larson. The musical boasted great success on Broadway, running for twelve years. In 2005, it was adapted to a motion picture starring Idina Menzel and Rosario Dawson. Loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's opera, La Bohéme, RENT follows a group of Bohemians living in the poverty of New York's East Village in 1989. Facing struggles with drugs, sexuality, and the AIDS virus, the band of starving artists navigates relationships, all while searching for a way to pay their rent.

 

Corbin Farrell played aspiring filmmaker Mark Cohen. Serving as the show's narrator, Farrell drove the plot with honest and raw commentary. With camera in hand, Farrell provided an insider lens to the harsh realities of the AIDS epidemic. He also bolstered a rich and booming voice, featured in songs like "Rent." In the "Tango: Maureen," Farrell created an awkwardly strained relationship with Joanne, his ex-girlfriend's new lover, portrayed by Hallie Strelsky. As the educated Joanne, Strelsky embodied the overbearing perfectionist, while letting loose in vocally challenging songs like "Take Me or Leave Me."

 

Jackson Miller portrayed Roger, a washed-up rock musician, battling depression after his HIV diagnosis and the suicide of his girlfriend, April. Miller exposed the raw emotion of loss through his accurate characterization of the hopeless and downtrodden artist. He exhibited an extensive range of vocal prowess, as he displayed a lovely vibrato in "Your Eyes" and a bold rock-and-roll tone in "What You Own." Miller established a budding romance with Mimi, an exotic club dancer, drug addict, and HIV victim, played by Trish Hoang. The pair's voices blended together through flawless harmonies in the heart-wrenchingly beautiful song "Without You." As the promiscuous Mimi, Hoang demonstrated duality, as she masked the wretched reality of her addiction with a confident swagger. Hoang also showcased an impressive belt in "Out Tonight." A spirited ensemble completed the cast, showing commitment to their roles and commendable vocal talent, especially in the melodic "Seasons of Love."

 

Awe-inspiring technical aspects rounded out the production. A realistically detailed set adorned the stage, creating the grimy vibe of the city. Complete with dilapidated brick walls and a rugged chain link fence, the set utilized the stage space to include outdoor and indoor settings. One of the most notable set pieces was the store window which held TV screens that broadcast vibrant pictures and unique videos throughout the show. Brilliant lighting effects highlighted the diverse onstage moments. Dim lighting accentuated intimate scenes while colorful lighting shined on lively rock-and-roll musical numbers.

 

"Measure your life in love," urges the cast of RENT, as they learn to appreciate the beauty of life within numbered days. Hayfield Secondary School inspired the audience to cherish every moment in their poignant and heartfelt production.

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