RENT Review: Seasons of Love—Lyric Arts’ Extraordinary Production of Rent

July 17th, 2014 No comments »

by Keith Roberts

Keith Roberts

Keith Roberts

One could easily dismiss Lyric Arts’ current production of RENT as just another community theatre attempting to contemporize their body of work.  This production moves beyond any of those ideas. This production leaps on the stage with incredible energy from the start and winds it way into your heart and your mind leaving a powerful imprint on both.

The set design for the show, while looking pretty utilitarian, is really a strong visual metaphor of the lives of the cast as well as our own.  The winding staircases, the lofting stage, the red and green lights creating a Christmas tree all help to remind us not only of the season but the starkness of the lives   The choice of the garage style lights show the “nakedness” of the light.  The use of bare tables again completes that idea that this cast really has nothing except each other.

The hallmarks of the production are not only the incredible cast, but also the nuance that director Matt McNabb brings to this production.  As mentioned above, he uses the stage as tool to carry the story as much as the cast and libretto.   The bare tables become so many pieces that propel the story.  They are a restaurant table, a hospital bed, and the only furniture in Mark and Roger’s apartment.  The most powerful scene in the production demonstrates this is during the song, “Without You.”  The tables, now separate like the characters on them, allow McNabb to create the starkness of empty lives either by loss to a horrible illness or just through the emotional loss of a torn relationship.  These are just a few of the simple but effective ways he turns ordinary into extraordinary.

The cast in the show is phenomenal.  The abilities presented by this diverse cast would suggest experience beyond their years and experience levels.  Kyler Chase carries Mark with the insecurity and the honest belief of human goodness that make Mark an everyman.  Kyler acts with his heart and his whole physical presence.  You see subtle character on his face, i.e.,  the way he carries himself, even how the camera becomes a physical part of him. He won me over from the onset.  He has to carry the show and does it with seemingly little effort.

Kendall Thompson, who has done some high profile roles locally, embodies Maureen, the raging anarchist bisexual who wants to change their world but gets wrapped up in the world around her, especially if anyone pays any notice to her. Having seen Menzel in the role originally, Thompson steals the show with the performance art number, “Over the Moon.”  You get the honest desire to elicit change but as well you see the need for constant attention that carries her role throughout the play.  She is gritty, nasty, loving, and compassionate all at the same time, so is Maureen. She is electric, passionate, and can really belt a tune.

Kate Beahen’s Joanne may not be the most glamorous role she has had, but she is so committed to this role that in the opening number, Joanne’s frustration, character and angst are obvious.  Joanne, always willing to take the backseat to Maureen’s whims, lets her have it with  “Take me As I Am.”  No longer willing to be Maureen’s convenience, she demands the love that she has given from the start of the show, Beahen, always the consummate actress, acts with every fiber of her being. The way she cocks her head, a warm, loving smile to greet Maureen, even the immediate disdain at having to work with Mark are told with her entire acting body. As for singing, she is one of the strongest in the show.  She is a veteran in this performance, and her talent and expertise are apparent.

The toughest role in the show is Mimi—Courtney Groves is there 100%. The biggest question of the show is, “How does she dance in those heels?”  Groves as Mimi brings the innocence of adolescence to the role of a street wise kid addicted who just wants love and security.  She moves through the set like the cat she sings about. Her vocal ability is perfect for the growling songs and as well as the introspection of ” Without You”.  She is able to maneuver the set, the songs, and the physicality with ease.

Don’t believe that those are the only strong things about the performances. If Patrick Jones’ reprise of “I’ll Cover You” doesn’t break your heart, you don’t have one. His range on that song is wide and his performance aching.    Mary Jo Hall’s ending of the signature song “ Seasons of Love “ will knock you out of your seats.  Kyle Szarzynski’s Angel comes off a little tentative, but once Jones arrives on the stage, you as well as Collins fall in love with Angel. She is the heart, the soul, the message of this story. The rest of the cast is vocally strong and incredibly talented. The band is incredible.  You will feel like you’re at a rock concert or in McNabb’s words, “It’s a freaking rock opera!”  It is and it’s the band that drives that energy.

RENT at Lyric Arts moves them from a community theater venue to the big leagues. This production rivals anything that Hennepin Trust and Theatre Latte Da have produced recently or anything locally at the McKnight or the other semi professional theaters in our community.  Matt McNabb gets it, the cast gets it, the band get it.  It’s your turn.  It’s difficult not to leave this show thinking, ”I’d die for a taste of what Angel had.”

Roberts is a local community theater director, coach and teacher with 35 years of experience in the theater.

RENT Review: Girl Meets Broadway

July 14th, 2014 No comments »

by Erin Nagel

GirlMeetsBroadwayTwenty years ago the world was first introduced to Jonathan Larson’s rock opera RENT. Now a new generation of theatre fans are being introduced to RENT’s themes of love, family, finding your voice and living for today. Lyric Arts took a risk when they decided to produce this show. The themes are universal, but the topics covered can be considered controversial. Especially for a suburban theatre known for producing family friendly theatre. Director Matt McNabb honored the late Jonathan Larson with his vision and direction of this piece. Staying true to the show, McNabb didn’t make any adjustments to the language or storylines. He stayed true to the vision Larson had for this show. 

Not only did McNabb cast actors that embrace the iconic roles, but ones who are able to mold the role into their own. Kendall Anne Thompson brings a raw energy to her Maureen. I saw her once before in History Theatre’s Baby Case last Fall and loved her voice. But as Maureen she is force to be reckon with. She tackles the role and makes it her own. She provides a hip, modern approach to a character in a cult hit musical which can be tricky. Her voice is flawless. Her best scene is Maureen’s protest “Over the Moon”. During this scene she shines and truly showcases her incredible acting range. As Roger, Blake Rhiner provides the role with a much needed jaded feel. You can feel the longing of the much bigger dreams he holds than the reality he is currently facing in “One Song Glory”. His chemistry with Mimi (Courtney Groves) is strained, but I feel this helps showcase the emotional relationship they have. Its not a typical relationship since they are both dealing with their AIDs diagnosis and drug use. 

Lyric Arts made the right choice when they decided to take a risk with this production. Sharing this show with a new generation of theatre fans and allowing those who have seen it before to experience it all over again. If you have ever had the desire to check out RENT or if you’re a RENThead and want to see the show again I highly suggest you make the drive to Anoka to see this production. You won’t regret it. I promise it.

Erin Nagel is an active member of the Minneapolis theatre community and creator and editor of theatre review blog Girl Meets Broadway

RENT Review: The Halloween Honey

July 14th, 2014 No comments »

Roxy Orcutt

by Roxy Orcutt

Full-disclosure: I have never seen Rent, in fact, I wasn’t even all that familiar with the music.  Sure, I’ve heard Seasons of Love here and there, because, much like the Let It Go craze, you couldn’t really avoid the tune in the last 18 years it’s been around. The Rent experience was new to me, and I wasn’t disappointed. 

As usually, Lyric Arts made spectacular use of their stage space.  Since they lack the width of stage, they utilize the height.  Out of the nearly dozen shows I’ve seen at Lyric, I’ve never seen a bad set design, never a wasted space, never an unused corner.  Rent takes place in 1993 in New York City’s gritty West Village.  While a bohemian paradise filled with artists, the paradise is lacking one thing, money.  These characters embodied the term “starving artist.”  Our main characters find themselves living rent-free (by simply choosing to not pay it because they can’t) in an old, dilapidated loft that translates perfectly on stage.   

I’m glad I was able to see Rent for the first time with this cast so I wasn’t comparing them to the original Broadway cast or film version.  The filmmaker Mark and his casual cool scarf, the wannabe rock star Roger in tattered t-shirts and dangerously unkempt hair, the literal glitter bomb that is Mimi, the animalistic, artistic Maureen and the bossy, but well-meaning Joanne, just to name a few, were brought to life but such a talented cast, every last one who are in possession of some impressive pipes. And let’s not forget Angel, in all her candy-colored glory and sass, the literal heart of the show.  

Angel’s costumes looked like they came straight out of a 1990’s dance music video fever dream, and those weren’t the only costume pieces causing a little nostalgia.  Now a period piece, the costumers of Rent have their work cut out of them to dress these characters in clothes that look authentic to twenty years ago.  While I personally remember 1993 pretty well (I was ten) there are people now seeing the show for the first time that may not even have been alive during the entire decade of the ‘90’s and I think the costuming on this show showcases the fashion of decade very well, especially for those living a by circumstance shabby chic lifestyle. 

The themes of love, friendship and support, as well as dealing with issues such as illness and poverty are beautifully portrayed in the show and the actors took great care to do this amazing work justice, and they, along with the entire production crew and musicians should be proud of the amazing work they’ve done.  Rent lives up to the hype and I now see why it garners such devotion among fans.  This production at Lyric Arts is not to be missed.  

Roxy Orcutt, otherwise known as The Halloween Honey, is a local blogger and author.

RENT Opening Weekend: Favorite Facebook post!

July 14th, 2014 No comments »

RENT Opening Weekend: Twitter has spoken!

July 14th, 2014 No comments »

Lyric Arts’ Twitter feed blew up this weekend thanks to all the excitement surrounding our opening weekend. Thanks to all who tweet, follow, favorite, and retweet!

Economic Accessibility Seating for RENT

July 1st, 2014 No comments »

Hello, friends!

Laura Tahja Johnson NEW 4 SQ

We are thrilled to be closing out our 2013-2014 season with RENT. This musical is still as poignant as it was when it first premiered in workshop form in New York City in 1994. And, even though it touches on topics like disease, addiction, poverty, and homelessness, it is filled with just as much life-affirming joy as it was when I saw it for the first time in 1997.

In honor of one of RENT‘s central themes, we are pleased to offer a limited number of economically accessible seats for each performance at only $10 a piece. These ticket will be available on the day of the show on a first-come, first-served basis. We believe that financial issues shouldn’t keep anyone out of our theater, especially for a show like this one that speaks so directly to economic hard times.

It is my sincere hope that you will join us for this “cultural landmark” of a musical when it opens on July 11. Tickets are selling fast!

Laura (only)_sig
Laura Tahja Johnson
Managing Artistic Director

Dig Deeper – What’s Your RENT Story?

June 19th, 2014 1 comment »

PremiereImage_RentFor many of us who have pursued a life in theater, there are key moments in our lives when we remember the impact of viewing a particular play or musical.  As a child growing up in a small town in Iowa, I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to attend new plays, so one of those moments came when Iowa Public Television showed a live videotaping of the Broadway production of Into the Woods starring Bernadette Peters.  I remember thinking, “Now, here’s an exciting musical!  Someone who finally asked the question – what happens after happily ever after?  I want to do this!”

These moments are different for each individual, but there are some productions that resonate with an entire generation.  RENT was just such a show and we’re looking for YOUR stories about this revolutionary musical and its impact on you.  I’m starting things off with a reprint of an article from the New York Times by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Please feel free to add your stories in the comments section below!  We look forward to hearing from you.

Dig Deeper – Food, Family and Fond Memories

June 11th, 2014 No comments »

The sense of smell can be extraordinarily evocative, bringing back pictures as sharp as photographs of scenes that had left the conscious mind. – Thalassa Cruso

Cassandra Staff Photo.1314

Cassandra Proball
Education Director

Food is an important part of almost any social gathering whether it’s a graduation party, a family reunion, or a simple evening meal.  Many of us associate particular foods, even very specific recipes, with those we love.  I have many fond memories of my grandmother, Leola:  her soft skin that smelled of vanilla when she squeezed me in a gentle hug;  warm, beautiful quilts faded from loving use; and her famous Soft Raisin Cookies.  Every time I visited, even as a married woman, Grandma Lee would always have these cookies ready and waiting for me in a cookie jar shaped like a giant mushroom.  When I first moved out on my own, she gave me the recipe and I’ve tried several times, but mine are just never quite the same.

The group of people that come together to create a show often become much like a family.  I’ve very much enjoyed working with the cast, crew and production team for The Red Velvet Cake War.   Although the show is truly a hilariously funny farce, the best kind of comedy comes from a place of truth and love.  The themes of food, love, and family that run throughout the show reminded me of how lucky we all are to have the people we love in our lives.  Thanks, Grandma. – Cassandra Proball

Soft Raisin Cookies
(originally by Great-Grandma “Johnny Bull” Dutemple and eventually passed down to me)

1 cup of raisins barely covered with water heated to boiling then cover and removed from heat to cool.

Sift together
4 cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup shortening (Grandma Lee always used Crisco) – cut into flour mixture with a pastry knife until crumbly

Add 2 eggs that have been slightly beaten

Drain heated raisins (saving water) and add to flour mixture and stir until mixed in

Add 6-7 Tbsp of saved water to make a soft dough

Empty dough onto a floured surface and knead several times until dough holds together

Roll out dough to about 1/4 inch thick and cut dough out

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400F for 12-15 minutes

Let cookies cool and store in an air tight container

Dig Deeper – Sights to Inspire

June 6th, 2014 No comments »

Flower Cake-Red Velvet DesignBrian Proball, our Production Director, invites each member of our design production team (props, costumes/makeup, sets, lights, sound, etc.) to share images that they found inspirational for their design concept for the show.  heatwave-Red Velvet Design

Here are a few of the images that were shared at the very first production meeting for The Red Velvet Cake War way back on April 1st!  Beehive-Red Velvet Design

When you come to see the show, see if you can recognize how and where these images influenced the designs…Boot Co-Red Velvet Design

First, An Intern-duction….

May 22nd, 2014 1 comment »

As the lights come on the audience hears the consistent sound of a car’s windshield wipers wiping back and forth. The sound is joined by the inconsistent sound of rainfall. At times the rain is mellow and light, however within 20 seconds it is hard and falls with the intensity of a meteor shower. Eventually the audience hears the windshield wipers stop, a car door slam, and someone running through puddles. They then hear a door slam and the rain becomes a distant noise as a young man of 21 walks into a theatre. It was his first day…. and he was absolutely soaked from head to toe. Curtain up!

Hello! My name is Brett Burger. I’m 21 years old, from Andover, Minnesota, and I’m an Aries. I am Lyric Arts’ Marketing and Public Relations Intern for the summer of 2014 and I couldn’t be happier. I am here to hopefully open up more to the public on what this amazing non-profit theater does in the summer.

So a little bit more about me: I’m currently a junior at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota. I’m a double major in Mass Communication with an emphasis in Public Relations as well as a Theatre major. I am a very active student on campus. At Winona State, we have a Theatre Honor Society, for which I was recently elected Vice-President. I work two jobs on campus. I am the student coordinator of marketing and publicity for our entire theater and dance department; I am also the lead student public relations writer for our University’s communications office.

Throughout this internship I have one major goal and that is to learn and retain as much knowledge as I can. What is so great about Lyric Arts is that the staff here wants to help me as much as I want to help them. They want me to help them succeed but at the same time they want to assign me things that will help me in my future. Over the summer my major projects will be helping put together and executing the marketing plan for our summer show RENT as well as helping the staff prepare for Riverfest and coming up with some marketing plans for the upcoming 2014–2015 season.

Throughout the week I will be working Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. On my first day I was in the box office, with our box office manager Matt McNabb. I learned how to use our ticketing system as well as what his job is exactly. After that I went around to introduce myself to majority of the staff including our Technical Director, Education Director, Production Director, and Marketing and Communications Associate. I sat down with each one of them and just chatted about who they were, where they started and what their job all entails.

Without sounding too corny, it was a really awesome experience and first day. Sitting down with all of these artistic and administrative people was one of those moments where I left the theater saying, “Yes. This is where I belong after graduating. These are my people.”  They have been so welcoming these last couple of days and it’s been amazing. After only a week I feel a part of the Lyric Arts staff already. For example, just now as Brian, our production director joked around with Bailey, our marketing associate, and told her if something goes wrong to deny everything and blame the intern. It was all in good fun. I’ve only been here for a week and each day I get more excited to come back and work more.

So again I hope throughout the summer I can give you guys the behind the curtain, fly on the wall, VIP access, deleted scenes and 10 hours of bonus blue-ray footage I can get you on what’s going on with our upcoming season and summer events!

Brett is a rising junior studying Public Relations and Theatre at Winona State University

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