Thomas A. Edison High School
"Moo with me," commands the leather-clad diva with the microphone, staring at you expectantly. Suddenly, without warning, four hundred people begin mooing in unison. No, you're not at a Farmers of America meeting gone horribly awry; you're watching Woodrow Wilson High School's rockin' production of Rent: School Edition.
Playwright Billy Aronson collaborated with composer Jonathan Larson to draft a musical based on Giacomo Puccini's 1896 opera "La bohème." Though Larson suffered an aneurysm before the completion of the project, Rent opened at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre exactly a century after its inspiration. Set in New York's East Village during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, the musical follows a group of struggling young people as they try to make ends meet while grappling with the struggles of city life, love, loss, and broken dreams.
An immense ensemble rocked the stage, and over fifty voices filled the theatre with beautiful harmonies. Especially during the iconic song "Seasons of Love," the voices of the cast and the three soloists masterfully brought the message to life.
Zach Rakotomaniraka as Mark Cohen, the dorky novice filmmaker with a mission, wonderfully portrayed his character's year-long journey through evictions, betrayals, and newfound friendships. Rakotomaniraka's stirring vocals were key to his performance, showing Mark's transitions from awkward dreamer to slightly-less-awkward partier. His riffs during the spectacular number "La Vie Bohème" delighted the ear as much as the hilarious dancing delighted the eye.
Playing opposite Rakotomaniraka, Aidan Trinity as the dark, brooding Roger Davis contrasted Mark's brighter personality nicely. Grating vocals and great chemistry with Gabby Anifantis (Mimi Marquez) built his character into a man who desperately sought his purpose in life, coping with the death of his girlfriend, AIDS, and addiction.
Mimi Marquez, the diseased, addicted, nineteen-year-old exotic dancer, is no easy role for an adult - let alone a high school student - yet Gabby Anifantis tackled the challenge marvelously. Her sultry mannerisms and smooth voice beautifully contrasted Roger and brought a complex, multi-faceted character to life. Anifantis professionally dealt with highly mature topics, sensitive scenes, and difficult songs (with technical issues to boot!) in a way not often seen among high school students.
The dynamic between Ben Schiffrin (Tom Collins) and Sammy Solomon (Angel Schunard) and between Nikki Keating (Joanne Jefferson) and Julia Ravenscroft (Maureen Johnson) proved that love knows no bounds "with a thousand sweet kisses." These actors and actresses handled the nuances of their roles and relationships phenomenally, taking care not to erase the characters' classic quirks.
A monumental full-stage set lined the cyclorama, which lit up beautifully to correspond with different scenes. Flashing lights and period-appropriate costumes aided the edgy vibe of the show, despite a few sound issues. The interesting choreography kept traditionally slow scenes engaging and visually pleasing.
The stellar cast and crew of Woodrow Wilson High School's Rent: School Edition went over the moon and just kept going, demonstrating through and through that there truly is no day but today!
Westfield High School
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, or in cups of coffee - how do you -measure a year? Through pain, through heartbreak, to moments of joy and exhilaration; 525,600 minutes hold unmeasurable value. Woodrow Wilson High School's Rent: School Edition expresses the importance of love and companionship through moments of despair and hopelessness.
Aspiring filmmakers, struggling musicians, cheeky drag queens, and rambunctious artists are assembled in a compelling, heartening journey through the grungy roads of New York City in Rent, written and composed by Jonathan Larson. Discussing the subjects of the AIDS epidemic, poverty, drug addiction, and homophobia, Rent empowers the oppressed through an electrifying musical sensation. Opening on Broadway in 1996, the dynamizing rock musical based off Puccini's La Boehme has left millions of audience members moved by the shockingly brilliant score.
From the title song "Rent," to the eye-catching "Out Tonight," and the closing harmonies of "Seasons of Love," the ensemble filled the stage with vibrant choreography and expressive physicality. Assisting in painting the Bohemian City, ensemble members established stories in the background of dialogue, adding to the liveliness of the show. Not one actor lost devotion to his/her art as complex dance numbers were accompanied by hauntingly exquisite vocals, pinning down harmonies and melodies with ease.
Playing the unpredictable exotic dancer, Gabby Anifantis injects prodigious talent as a triple threat in her role as Mimi Marquez. Providing extraordinary dance and vocal technique in "Out Tonight," Anifantis tackles the troubled drug addict with dazzling skills. Serving as Mimi's romantic interest, Aidan Trinity as Roger Davis, the HIV positive guitarist, fills his role as the conflicted musician by implementing gratifying vocal power in "One Song Glory," capturing the hearts of the audience as they comprehend the atrocities of Roger's past.
Ben Schiffrin's remarkable rendition as Tom Collins infused pure agony and heartache in his tear-jerking rendition of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)," leaving audiences sentimental and sympathizing with Schiffrin's emotional downfall. Schiffrin's vocal range accomplished the bass requirements of Collins, intensifying the feeling of losing a loved one. Complementing Collins is the flamboyant, sassy Angel Schunard portrayed by Sammy Solomon. Solomon's version of "Today for You" used his high vocal range and hilarious physicality to present the admirable drag queen. Both Schiffrin and Solomon create a believable romantic relationship, flattering each other roles consistently throughout the show.
The slums of New York City are given a distinct personality through bold yet simple lighting choices by Raymond Simeon. Filling the cyclorama with colors of heartbreak, confidence, and conflict, the audience was visually swayed by the emotion presented in the lighting aspects. Costume design (Virginia Mogzec, Jaelen White) instilled the memorable fashion of the 90s into all roles, providing a broad range of personalities for each character. Costuming choices told stories, allowing older audience members to reminisce about the late twentieth century.
Angel Dumott Schunard taught us to love one another, to remain beside each other through our differences, and the message continues to instill itself within the spirits of the audience as the curtain closes on Woodrow Wilson High School's powerful cast of Rent: School Edition. Themes of loss and conflict bring together audience members as it brought together the cast of Rent, leaving a bittersweet feeling in the hearts of many.