By Julianne Mosher
There are 525,600 reasons to head to the Smithtown Performing Arts Center and see their rendition of Rent.
Directed by Kevin Burns, the show opens in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village in the late 1980s with this exquisite rock opera originally written by Jonathan Larson. A modern-day musical, loosely inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Larson created the script based on where he was living in the early 90s — in a rundown apartment with several roommates all just trying to survive and, of course, pay rent.
Set in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, the musical follows the stories of several people, a group of friends and acquaintances, living with addiction, abuse, AIDs, homelessness and more. But despite the heavy topics, Larson’s opera-styled score brings humor and wit to situations that are not for the faint of heart.
We open with Roger (Zach Johnson) and Mark Cohen (David Reyes), an aspiring singer and filmmaker, sitting in their cold apartment during Christmas. Roger’s girlfriend passed away and while grieving, he meets his new neighbor, Mimi (Alisa Barsch) who asks him to “light her candle” during a power outage.
We learn of Benny (Trentin Chalmers), a friend-turned-businessman who is trying to evict the old comrades from their underwhelming living space, and we meet Tom Collins (Shiloh Bennett) who’s an anarchist professor living with HIV who falls for the positive and eccentric Angel (Ruben Fernandez), a drag queen street performer.
Eventually we’re introduced to Maureen (Jess Ader-Ferretti), Mark’s artist ex-girlfriend who left him for Joanne (Michelle Demetillo) a strong-willed lawyer.
This is a beautifully crafted story of love and loss.
With a minimalist set, each and every actor uses their talents of voice and expression to give the scenery life, plus the costumes are straight out of the Broadway musical (1996) turned film (2005). That being said, the cast is so impressive that if one were to listen to their live performance and then the recordings of the original cast, you’d think it’s the same group.
With the band right on stage in the middle of the action, you learn of the hopes and dreams of the characters, experience loss and eventually find hope. In the three hours of viewing time, this emotional roller-coaster is definitely worth it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll experience a whole new outlook on life.
Johnson, Reyes, Barsch, Chalmers, Bennett, Ader-Ferretti and Demetillo’s performances on opening night were stellar. The talent of the main cast deserves two thumbs up, and of course, Fernandez embodies the beautiful Angel, both in and out of drag, perfectly — plus, he can dance in heels.
But the ensemble cast need a round of applause, too. The several roles each and every one of them play isn’t at all confusing, especially since there are several story lines happening at one given time. In fact, those in the background help ground the rest of the group and make the storylines even better.
So, go buy your tickets now because there’s “no day but today” and you deserve to go “out tonight!”
The Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 E. Main Street, Smithtown presents “Rent” through Oct. 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $32 seniors (55 and older), $28 students (21 and under). To order, call 1-800-595-4849 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.