Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Thoughts on RENT in local theatres

Again, apologies for the delays but its Haunted House season and Gravestone Manor is kicking it into high gear.

That being said some of you might also be asking "I think this post is about Rent the Broadway Musical. What is scary about that?"

I would counter with "that is a good question." Then I would stare at you until you asked me what the answer was because I'm so exhausted this time of year that I would need a kick in the rear to keep going.

Here is why I'm including Rent in a blog about scary things. Recently Rent left Broadway. When that happens, other theatres can purchase the rights for it and then stage their own productions. Recently I saw one of these productions. Now friends, do not automatically assume that I am going to say bad things about what I saw because everyone who acted in the show did really well. I was very much impressed. But there were some trends that I saw that might happen in many theatrical renditions of Rent that are scary because they take something away from the show. Rent is a finely tuned machine. There are very few liberties that one can take. If you do something a little bit different you have to make sure that you don't take away from the show's strengths. This is more so a warning for anyone considering putting on a production of Rent and again, this is not a slight on any of the actors involved because I think everyone did exceptionally well.

1. In my experience, it is the tendency of theatres to try to incorporate as many people into their cast as possible. When they aren't paid professionals, the inclination is to be fair and to give a lot of people a chance. This is fine. It is not fine however for a show like Rent. There are 8 principle parts and a variety of smaller roles for the ensemble. The ensemble is to represent the rest of the city and those that the main characters encounter. So there is definitely a need to have a number of actors.

But it is very unnecessary and in fact quite dangerous to load the stage with actors. The production I saw had so many people on stage for the big numbers that it seemed like they were hurting for room. Rent is so incredible because of its energy. To simulate energy you need movement. To have movement you need space. When you load the stage with have no space. That was the big problem I had with the production I saw was that there were so many people on stage that the possibility for movement was almost non-existent. The actors all wanted to move and they had lots of energy, but it got lost when they really had nowhere to go. Something to consider.

B. Sometimes I change to letters. That's right, who caught that?

I'm afraid of this as well: We all love the Rent soundtrack. We have grown up with it and have listened to the voices of the original cast for how long? Some of us also have the movie soundtrack and also the DVD of the Final Performance to study as well. We know these songs inside and out. It is only our natural instinct to try to match what we know and love. But we don't have to do this. Trying to match the original soundtrack can actually decrease the quality of the live performance.

That being said I think people need to be cautious of this as well. It didn't happen often, but every so often there were a few times when singers would add unnecessary runs and inflections and what not. It wasn't a deal breaker, but something that caught my attention. We aren't Idina Menzel or Adam Pascal. Taking risks is okay if you know your limits. If we are lucky enough to be cast in Rent it is because someone recognized and appreciated our voices. Stay true to yourself and sing the song that it sounds good regardless of weather or not it sounds like the original. Just don't over do it. Remember this the next time you are on stage singing "Take Me or Leave Me."

3/C. Lastly...the thing we all need to be aware of: Angel does not have to be portrayed as flamboyant. His costuming will take care of that. He is sincere, he is gentle, he is the heart of the show. He holds everyone together to the best of his ability. To "gay him up" is distracting and in actuality takes away from the character. Remember: If you play Angel, have fun, be a drag queen, dress like Santa, play drums, jump up on the table and love Collins...but whatever you do, don't be flamboyant.

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  1. I'm so sad i couldn't see Rent when it was around.

  2. thanks for your thoughts, cory. i agree the cast was too big. i had even said to another chorus member that the music in the show could lend itself to more actual dancing - they didn't do too much dancing on broadway, it's just something i think might work - but with the crazy number of people in that cast, we wouldn't have successfully choreographed much. la vie boheme was crazy enough. i'm glad they put so many ppl in the ensemble, cuz if they didnt, who knows, i might have got cut! but you're right, it was too many, because we couldn't get from one part of the stage to another w/o tripping over each other, and obviously the audience noticed.

    as far as the music goes, some of the written music actually says for the singer to "ad lib" such as Mimi's oh's and ooh's in "Out Tonight." so it's not necessarily supposed to sound like the soundtrack. as you said, we are NOT Idina Menzel or Adam Pascal so we're not going to ad lib like they did. but that's not to say that maybe a bit more coaching in the vocal department couldn't have helped some of the actors be more in character and more pleasant to the ears.
    and, as far as flamboyant angel, you're right that in all, angel is supposed to be happy, loyal, and ridiculously dressed. whether the flamboyant nature of the character came from the actor's own personality or the direction of the directors, i'm not sure. but the best part about angels character is that he is happy-go-lucky when everyone else is so down. and i think we got the point across, even if it was in a flaming gay way.

    at any rate, i'm glad you came to see it, and i respect your ability to point out the flaws, because most journalists didn't. (except one, whos article was poorly written, and the one flaw she wrote about, nobody else seemed to agree with)

  3. Great post. Did not see the show in question...different coast, but I really appreciate a thoughtful review.

    I always hate to see good material handled without respect. In any form, for the room on the stage to the vocal abilities.

    Husband and I love theater and nothing will kill a performance for us faster than someone not understanding their space.

    I saw a version of Assassins that sounded great but the staging was murder (yes, I know, pun intended.) Ruined for us what is still one of our favorite musicals.

    Back to prop making!


  4. Unless thing have changed since I was doing community theater, the amount of auditioner turnout was usually weak unless there was a hot show being put up, which I guess Rent qualifies for.

    I have never been a fan of casting all who came out for the show for the reason you describe here (I didn't see the show). Yes, having a full chorus and a lot of background players usually is good, but not on a stage as small as LTWB's.

    But if your casting decisions are going to end up crowding the stage, you should take the extra effort to make sure the blocking and choreography accounts for every actor on stage. Even if it is "Stay in the back and don't move," that should have been said. Or not have as many actors on stage at the same time. Because if it looked crowded to an audience member, it should have looked crowded to the director and choreographer during rehearsals.

    As for Angel, I was wondering how thy would play that. I saw a badly written article in the weekender where they said the character was changed from the original. I would have assumed that it would be toned down. But it looks like they went in another direction.

  5. I just want to add that I don't think that the performance was bad. It was very enjoyable and made me very nostalgic for Broadway. If I had more money or more time I would have gone to see more shows. Heck, if I had more time I would have auditioned. I was just saying that these were somethings that caught my eye while watching the otherwise enjoyable rendition.