Rent The Musical

I learned a lot from watching the Rent press screening last night at Rockwell:
a) Viva Hot Babe Sheree can sing AND dance live, even songs that would have knocked the breath out of lesser performers
b) Gian Magdangal (Sheree’s real-life baby daddy) is a really good singer
c) There are a lot of better songs in the musical than Seasons of Love
The Story
Rent, written by Jonathan Larson back in the 90’s, is an adaptation of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme about a group of bohemian artists living in poverty and coping with AIDS in New York. Much of the story draws parallels from the 19th century work, modernized to depict the 90s: New York replaces Paris, AIDS replaces Tuberculosis, and musicians/performers replace the painters and poets of Puccini’s work. 
It tells the intertwined tales of survival of Roger, a musician who longs to write one last song before he dies; Mimi, a 19-year old dancer who lives one floor down from Roger; Mark, Roger’s independent filmmaker roommate who has yet to get over his ex-girlfriend dumping him for another woman; Maureen, the aspiring performer and Mark’s ex; Collins, a computer genius and Roger’s other roommate; and Angel, a drag queen with whom Collins fell in love with after he (she) rescues him after a mugging; Joanne, Maureen’s Harvard-educated lawyer-girlfriend; and Benny, the trio’s former roommate who now owns the building after he marries a rich woman.
Details from Larson’s own life are incorporated in the plot elements as well, making him almost the unseen main character: his own girlfriend left him for another woman, he lived in impoverished conditions in NY, details of which are depicted clearly in the production – no heater, broken buzzer which means his guests have to call him on the payphone so he could drop the keys to the ground to let them in.

The Cast
Most of the cast reprise their roles from the February 2010 run – led by Gian Magdangal as Roger, but there are surprise additions such as Sheree as Mimi and last-minute replacement Mian Dimacali as Maureen. Known stage actor Lorenz Martinez also joins as Benny.

The show started off on rather shaky ground as I remember thinking some high school and college productions look and sound much better and looking at my watch at the same time, but after the initial awkwardness and off-key songs, I found myself enjoying and didn’t bother checking the time anymore.

Almost the entire cast gave solid acting and singing but I would have to hand down the best and most consistent performance to Job Bautista (Angel) and OJ Mariano (Tom Collins) who played gay lovers with realistic sweetness. I have to admit I rarely cry during live performances but the scene when Angel was dying in the background while Mimi and Roger sing a duet in the foreground got me teary-eyed even though the two of them had no lines or song numbers for that scene. They were the best couple and performers of the production, no doubt.

There were a lot of good duets given last night though, and I thoroughly enjoyed Joanne and Maureen’s confrontation scene singing Take Me or Leave and Mimi and Roger’s Without You and I Should Tell You.This is even more commendable when I learned that the actress playing Maureen, Mian Dimacali, was a newcomer – she could have fooled me!

Maureen’s one-woman act of a story about a cow and a bulldog was my favorite performance of the night – she owned it with the way she moo’ed and coo’ed her way on stage, and providing the sound effects for her act.

Sheree (Mimi) started off sounding off-key in her first solo song – Out Tonight – and I almost feared she would lose her voice any minute as it was so raspy but she more than made up for it with fiery and powerful vocals in the next set. And I must admit her portrayal of Mimi was quite charming and I could almost feel her desperation and longing to be loved. I had very low expectations from her, thinking that she’s nothing but a Viva Hot Babe and FHM cover girl but she surprised me.

Gian though, left much to be desired. While I must admit his singing kept me awake and interested, I find his face devoid of any emotion (or maybe I was seated way too far on the 12th row; but then, I could the others’ facial expressions). He just doesn’t strike me as someone hopelessly in love with a dying person.

But probably the weakest link is Fredison Lo, who plays Mark Cohen. He not only is a bad actor, but sings like he is in his sleep. He seems nice enough but probably the reason the musical started off on lousy footing was because it started with him. He just wasn’t as engaging as the rest of the cast and his scenes were the least enjoyable.

The Set

A cinema seems a rather odd choice to have this musical as the lighting and stage is not much suited to a live performance but in the end, I think it worked well as the audience had a more intimate view and the sound is more focused.

And I loved the simple two-storey set as it didn’t distract from the actual stars of the production – the actors.

The Verdict

I’ve heard some negative press about the Manila production from last February, and given that most of the cast were retained, I was expecting to waste three hours of my time. But all else said, it was still an enjoyable show and I would recommend it to my friends and family.

Rent is on for a limited run of eight performances at Cinema 2 of the Power Plant Mall from December 8 – 12 so better get your tickets as soon as you can.

6 thoughts on “Rent The Musical

  1. Nicole Asencio is still the best MIMI. The performance of Benny is forgettable. The audio and the lighting is absurd.BUT what I can say is this.They have the best production ever.


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