by ERIKA SASSEVILLE
I did contemplate reviewing Inver Grove Heights Community Theatre’s production of RENT with a simple, “Everything was perfect. Period.” but that would be a disservice to everyone, since this show deserves to be gushed over in long-form. The show IS perfection, and you only have one more opportunity to catch it (Sunday, July 24th at 2:00pm), so you better rush out and get there before you miss out on the performance of the summer.
Winner of the 1996 Tony Award for Best Musical as well as the Pulizter Prize for Drama, RENT is set in New York City “at the end of the millennium” and chronicles an unforgettable year in the lives of seven artists and friends as they struggle to make art, love, and ends meet without selling out or giving up. It’s a celebration of love and friendship and creativity and a reminder that no matter how hard life can be, you can always count on the people you love to keep you going.
Directed by Quinn Forrest Masterson, Vocal Direction by Madeline Huss, Choreography by Jennifer Haider, Scenic Design by Adam Oster, Costume Design by Christy Branham, and Lighting Design by Pierce Jensen, RENT is a seamless and cohesive masterpiece that would no doubt make Jonathan Larson proud. From the very first moment when the ensemble takes the stage to the brain-melting guitar riffs to the show-stopping “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)”, you can see the absolute expertise at work. The intricate industrial look of the set design gives the actors so much to play with and perfectly works with the lighting design to create a feast for the eyes at any given moment. The use of color in the lighting design contrasts so elegantly with the drab and dark set pieces, illuminating the inner brilliance of the characters against the shadows of their strife and tribulations. In short, the technical work was breath-taking.
There are not enough words in this or any language to properly give the cast their due affirmation, but I’m going to give it my best. The vocal work from all the lead performers and soloists were spot on, and whenever the ensemble sings together, it’s pure theater magic. Lewis Youngren is excellent as Mark Cohen, showing the sweet and loving side of a starving artist and making every actor on stage with him better with his glowing personality. James Ehlenz as Roger Davis brings the character to life (helped in no small part by the excellent pit orchestra led by Noah Wilson) with his rockstar vocal talents and undeniably cool… well… everything… and his chemistry with the “born to be bad” Mimi (Shannon Dancler) is strong and heartbreaking in equal measure. Aram Eskridge (Tom Collins) and Bee Tremmel (Angel Dumott Schunard) are no doubt the heart and soul of the show. Eskridge’s gorgeous voice and Tremmel’s effusive charisma almost brought me to my feet on multiple occasions. Cheron Whittley (JoAnne Jefferson) and Brooklyn Schwiesow (Maureen Johnson) are wonderful together as on-again-off-again girlfriends who definitely bring to life the concept of opposites attract. The ensemble features stand out moments from every actor at some point in the show, but solos by Michelle Braun (Mark’s Mom) Eliana Lawrence (Ensemble/Pam) in “Seasons of Love” and other songs and Riley Webster (Ensemble/Seasons of Love Soloist) were some of my favorites.
Congratulations to all involved in RENT for a stirring production, and you can bet I’ll be looking forward to whatever IGHCT puts on next!
RENT is produced by Inver Grove Heights Community Theatre at Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights. The final performance is Sunday, July 24th at 2:00pm. The performance will be ASL interpreted as well.
Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at this web address:
Note: RENT includes adult themes and language. It is not recommended for children under 13.