Lindenwold High School had audiences "over the moon" with their rendition of RENT: School Edition this weekend.
Jonathan Larson's RENT, based on the opera La Bohème centers on a friend based group of struggling artists as they try to survive living in Manhattan's Lower East Village and deal with personal consequences of the HIV/AIDS crisis.
RENT! opens on best friends Mark Cohen (Connor Basollote) and Roger Davis (Bryan Lopez), who are squatters in an abandoned warehouse. Basallote offered a spot-on depiction of Mark, with strong vocals and a solid interpretation of the nerdy leading man. Lopez's Roger was one of utter sincerity and he brought an intensity to the character that was very moving. The two boys were a great match with one another, demonstrated by the chemistry they had in songs like the title number "Rent" where the duo laments about paying rent and the woes of poverty.
The rest of the group of friends was equally talented with strong, thorough performances from the sweet, sultry Tianya Johnson as Mimi Marquez, feisty Gianna Terrell as Joanne Jefferson, and the hardheaded but ultimately lovable Sayf Mouhamed as Benny. Erin Nevin titillated the audience with her animated rendition of "Over the Moon", a performance piece within the show sung mostly a capella. Quincy Montgomery and Felix Cepeda had excellent chemistry in their respective roles as Angel and Tom Collins. The onstage love shared between them was a true highlight of the show, which only added to the horrific death of Angel due to complications with HIV. Cepeda and the rest of the cast left few dry eyes during their performance of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)."
Featured roles of RENT did not fail to impress as well, and the RENT ensemble took on the challenge of portraying an array of different roles. Sharon Hall's solo as an aggressive homeless woman during "Christmas Bells" as well as Chloe Warnick (Alexi Darling) and Michaela Day (Mrs. Cohen)'s many incessant calls home to Mark added some much needed humor to the heavy piece that is RENT. Other ensemble highlights include "Support Group" soloist Donell Craig and the many soloists in songs such as "Seasons of Love" and "Will I?"
Designed and constructed by the LHS Build Crew, the set of RENT was that of practically professional quality and the graffiti wall painted behind it was visually stunning. Another visual highlight of the show was that of Angel's ascent into heaven (no pun intended), and the student-constructed white tresses that trailed behind him were beautiful.This and many other cast-picked costumes, most notably Angel's many fabulous looks, proved to be very character driven. Despite having an incredibly loud orchestra, the cast members were almost always heard above the music, and the Booth Buddies at LHS did an impeccable job of keeping the levels balanced while still managing over twenty microphones-- which is no easy feat!
Less than thirty years ago, the show was believed to be too radical for any stage, yet here now in 2019, its message was able to be given to audiences on the Lindenwold High School Stage. Lindenwold's RENT: School Edition reminds us that "love heals" despite our hardships and this production was surely not one to miss.
How do you measure a year? In 525,600 minutes, daylights, sunsets, midnight's, and cups of coffee. Well, how do you measure love? In community, support, and unity. Lindenwold High School's performance of RENT: School Edition connected people not just on stage, but in the audience.
Opening on Broadway in 1996, RENT tackled controversial issues of the 90s loosely following the plot of Giacomo Puccini's opera, La Bohème. RENT was an immediate success with its popularity continuing to this day. A film adaptation of RENT was released in 2005 starring Idina Menzel, Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, and other notable names. Most recently, a live televised performance of RENT starring modern celebrities in the likes of Jordan Fisher and Vanessa Hudgens aired in January of 2019. The show follows a group of misfit friends suffering from HIV/AIDS, poverty, relationship issues, and other complex concepts. Despite hardships each character faces in their daily lives, they remain strong with the power of love and hope.
RENT, containing mature adult topics, is a highly difficult show to perform even on a professional level; RENT: school edition did not compromise the level of difficulty and importance of the show and message. Each performer developed their own unique character enhancing the audience's connection with story. Soloists blew the audience away with their vocal ability and delivered shivers to the audience with the emotional depth of their performance. The beautiful, student-designed set turned the Lindenwold High auditorium into a performance warehouse for the story of RENT to come to life.
Bryan Lopez encapsulated the angst-y punk rock star with his portrayal of Roger Davis not only in looks, but also in his minimal-yet-impactful gestures and unique voice. Not once did Lopez stray from the troubled character of Roger, igniting empathy from the audience. Lopez's "One Song Glory" struck a chord with audience members with the desperation in his voice and his beautiful delivery of the song's message of wanting to leave a legacy. Tianya Johnson's intricate portrayal of Mimi Marquez brought a new level of warmth to the troubled character. Her silky vocals in "Without You" warmed the audience on the chilly evening, moving some to tears.
Erin Nevin paralleled her character Maureen Johnson with her stage presence and iconic performance skills. Nevin's performance of Maureen's infamous "Over the Moon" monologue echoed moos throughout the small South Jersey auditorium into the hearts of every audience member. The iconic powerhouse song, "Take Me or Leave Me", performed by Nevin and Gianna Terrell — who played Joanne Jefferson — is an incredibly difficult song to perform. Nevin and Terrell bulldozed the song with their efforts and vocal strengths bringing light to the complexity of Maureen and Joanne's relationship.
Round of applause to Lindenwold's students who designed the show's set which matched RENT's level of complexity. Each component of the set served purposeful to the story line. The graffiti wall made by students beautifully accompanied the performance and the costuming done by students also wowed the audience. Angel's tear-away dress and vibrant costumes added to the flamboyant nature of the character.
Lindenwold's RENT: School Edition showcased the talents of the small town and united the community in the troubling times of today. Dedicated to Maribely Lopez, Lindenwold's production proves through hard times, humanity and love will prevail.
Rent: Due Today! Lindenwold High School recently opened with their 2019 production of Rent: School Edition. Directed by Jeffrey Flood-Orion, the show's emotional tones and controversial topics were executed perfectly for a high school setting.
First performed in 1994, Rent continues to still hold its popular status throughout the years; the most recent performance being Rent Live! which was aired in January 2019. Based on the beloved opera, La Bohème, Rent illustrates the late 1980s, during the HIV/AIDS crisis in America. The Tony-award winning musical was one of the first to express homosexuality and dark subjects such as drug use on stage. In the school edition, these students are simply misunderstood people searching for a place to belong.
Overall, the ensemble carried the show. The most enjoyable scenes were the ones that featured the entire cast, for example, Support Group and Seasons of Love. Each actor/actress was full of energy and provided the audience with entertaining and emotionally moving talent.
The lead actors who possessed the strongest vocal and acting ability were played by Bryan Lopez (Roger Davis), and Felix Cepeda (Tom Collins). Lopez's song, One Song Glory, was an absolute favorite and drew the audience to tears immediately. His emotion towards Mimi Marquez (Tianya Johnson) was emotional and strong. The two displayed great chemistry and harmonized well. Felix Cepeda's bass voice was beautiful and really added to the show's overall performance.
The show would not be complete without Erin Nevin's (Maureen Johnson) comedic and beautiful performance of Over The Moon. The audience's involvement during it cannot go unnoticed. Other notable performances in the ensemble go out to Sharon Hall, Michaela Day, and Chloe Warnick.
The technical aspects used throughout the show were completed almost perfectly and added to the overall story. The use of over 20 microphones, while difficult to complete, was executed will little error, thanks to the soundboard operator, Layan Mouhamed. Starr Isler, light board operator, was definitely busy during this show. The numerous light cues and colored spots used throughout the performance were not only beautiful but made solos such as One Song Glory that much more emotional. Also, the use of projection, music technology and Bryan Lopez's guitar playing were very impressive.
In conclusion, this show is what the young generation needs to see. The hard topics covered through music and dance help children understand the hardships that many people still have to face. The talented cast and set design were beautiful. So, when is rent due? Right now!