University of Maryland (College Park) School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies is performing RENT through October 28th at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, directed by Alan Mingo, who is a UMD alumni who played Tom Collins in the Broadway production of RENT. Jonathan Larson’s highly popular Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical is about tenants who live in a worn out apartment building in New York City, many suffering from HIV/AIDS.
The set design by Douglas Clarke is extremely detailed, and captures the cold streets of New York. There are tall streetlamps, telephone booths, and moving fire escape ladders that the cast maneuvers according to the choreography. Andrew Dorman’s lighting design completes the gloomy look and feel of the musical, and also uses Christmas lights and candle work for more special effects.
The student performances – their singing and acting- are as good as any professional theatre company of RENT that I have seen before. I especially enjoyed the passionate performances of “Tango Maureen,” by Joanne (Jenay McNeil) and Mark (Matt Hill); dancing the tango and singing about troubles with Maurine – Mark’s former and Joanne’s current – a duet filled with resentment and sensuality. “Out Tonight” performed by Mimi (Erica Philpot), is a sparkle filled, sexual number that displays Mimi’s talent for pole-dancing and seducing the audience; at one point, she lets down her hair, and sparkles emerge from her locks. Jonathan Helwig (Roger) sang a heart-wrenching version of “One Song Glory” – hoping to write one great song before he dies, and Patrick Grant (Tom Collins) and David Todd (Angel) singing a joyful and love-filled “I’ll Cover You.” When the talented ensemble raised their voices as one in their emotional rendition of “Seasons of Love,” it reminded me of why RENT is touching a whole new generation of theatregoers like myself.
RENT concludes its run tomorrow, October 28th at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Kay Theatre – at the University of Maryland. The remaining two performances are sold out.