DANCYN PRODUCTIONS presents RENT
June, 11 and 12 at 2:00 pm. June 9, 10 and 11 at 8:00 pm.
Dnipro Theatre, 81 Dnipro Blvd. Oshawa CASH ONLY AT THE DOOR
Produced by Zac Mansfield, Directed by Joan Mansfield, Music Direction by Geoff Daye
‘Rent’ is one of those iconic musicals that will probably never become dated as its’ messages of acceptance, love, redemption and hope are universal and timeless. It is one hell of a show even to consider staging on so many theatrical levels. Once again, Dancyn Productions is to be commended for tackling ‘Rent’ for a number of reasons. First, Mrs. Mansfield holds true to her company’s mandate in casting new actors for each production. It was inspiring to see so many new faces with ages ranging from 15 – 60 on the Dnipro Hall stage. Some of the cast has driven in from Peterborough and Brampton because they wanted to be a part of this ‘rock’ experience and I, for one, certainly hope they will return for other productions in the Durham Region in the future.
Just a quick bit of history about the musical. Jonathan Larson, who wrote the libretto for RENT, passed away a few days before the original Broadway cast opened to critical acclaim where it played for over 1,000 performances. For audiences today, the story becomes an important one where we are called to take Mr. Larson’s messages of love, redemption and hope out into the world. This story takes place in New York’s East Village in 1996 with numerous social justice issues of the day: HIV/AIDS crisis, youth homelessness and poverty, and homosexuality were hot topic issues that sparked many controversial discussion about RENT and why it was such a hit in New York.
There are moments in Dancyn’s production where the audience is riveted to the action occurring on stage: The first occurs at the top of the show where the title song is sung. At one point during that song, when the entire company is singing, I had goose bumps. Another knockout moment is the closing song of Act One entitled “La Vie Boheme” with inventive choreography (nice work here by choreographer Christyna McGregor). The lyrics of this song encapsulate beautifully the bohemian lifestyle of youth and young people in New York’s East Village not only in 1996 but also in the twenty first century. Two more show stopper songs occur in the Second Art. Close your eyes, listen and just enjoy this version of ‘Seasons of Love’. The love ballad “Without You” aches with pain, loss and loneliness.
There is a second reason why DANCYN is to be commended for tackling such a mammoth production like ‘Rent’. The company has literally transformed the Dnipro Wedding and Events hall into a theatrical space that, I’m sure, has not been an easy feat by any means. The three-piece band (led by Geoff Daye) is in fine form. One challenge that faces not only DANCYN but also all theatre companies is to ensure that the mic packs don’t give out on the performers while ensuring the band does not drown out the singing. As performances continue and audiences increase, I know there will be a nice blend of music and voices.
Thankfully, this set incorporates levels so the audience is able to watch the action from many angles. As we enter the auditorium, we are met with a huge sign covered in graffiti that would most likely be found in the seedy East village of NYC. The costumes evoke the eras of the 90s quite believably.
Mrs. Mansfield’s direction is extremely sensitive and not maudlin. The serious and sad elements never venture into pathos (and, yes, there are some humorous moments). All members of the cast, and this includes the ensemble, have captured the gritty, raw and visceral elements of human nature when we are at our wits’ end whether we are suffering from a breakup, a terminal illness or strapped for cash. Each performer (and this includes the ensemble) has created a unique individual who is either lonely or savagely starved for any kind of personal connection in the HIV/AIDS era of 1996. As Angel, Daniel Wiltshire delivers a hauntingly tender performance that is heightened at his death when his lover Tom Collins (Dane Harvey), with power and silent emotion, carries his body across the stage. I had heard that invited audience members on the final dress rehearsal shed a few tears at this point. Shira Forsyth and Zade O’Blenes, as lesbian couple Joanne Jefferson and Maureen Johnson, are fiery hot and cold in their on again, off again relationship. Roommates Mark Cohen and Roger Davis (nicely played by Messrs. Daron Owen and Conner Clarkin) allow us to live vicariously through their challenges, struggles and emotional upheavals. Rounding out the principal singers are Nicole Cann as Mimi Marquez and Gary Delaney as Benjamin Coffin III who add further depth and interest to our understanding of the bohemian life of New York’s East Village.
Since June is Pride month in Durham Region, DANCYN made a wise choice to stage this iconic musical at this time. I had also heard there were some ‘Rent Heads’ who came from Hamilton to see this show and were pleased they made the trip. Be warned, as there are some adult situations and language throughout the story, but don’t let that deter you from ‘Rent’s’ messages of love and acceptance of individuals for who they are. Get to see this one before it closes.