Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rent, Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory

("La Vie Boheme" in full flight.)

One of the great advantages of being high school students is thinking you can do anything. Of course, they’re usually wrong, especially when they think they can perform a demanding sung-through show such as Rent.

But the students of the Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory fought the odds at their opener on Saturday, battling a screwed up sound system to turn in a fine ensemble effort with a few outstanding individual turns.

This “school edition” of Rent is edited a bit, but is still chock full of as much adult content as a Jerry Springer show on HGH—with drug use, gay lovers, kinky sex and free-floating obscenities. Let’s face it, Rent is no Oklahoma! or Guys and Dolls. And Jonathan Larson’s score, which veers from hard rock to “Musetta’s Waltz” from La Boheme, is studded with myriad places that can trip up even the most experienced singers.

Still, under the skillful direction of Sean Szaller the FPAC production often hits the right emotional chords and retains much of the punch and swagger of the show that took Broadway by storm in 1996.

Mark and Roger are about to be evicted by their new landlord/former roommate Benny for not paying their rent. And while they fight that battle, Roger hooks up with Mimi, a drug addict and sex club dancer who lives in the same building. Out on the street, mugging victim Tom Collins is befriended by a drag queen named Angel. And two lesbian performance artists, Maureen and Joanne, are negotiating their turbulent relationship while planning a protest concert.

This is a story of love on many levels, and it needs intelligent and committed players who are unafraid to embody these young strivers and outcasts.

In the highlight role of Roger, Andrew Parmelee sings well and creates just enough chemistry with the chemically-woozy Mimi, played by Sarah Konish, to make that duo ring true. Unfortunately, Konish’s head mic was fried at this performance, so it was hard to hear let alone enjoy her singing.

But the most touching love connection is fashioned by Joel Furr and Carlos Cruz, who play Tom and Angel respectively. Cruz looks great in his drag outfits, but is most successful and believable in his less flamboyant and more tender moments. Furr ‘s touching reprise of “I’ll Cover You” in the second act is extremely affecting.

As Joanne, Nikki Leavitt loosens up nicely in the second act to realize more of her character’s nuances. But Codie Higer dazzles as her outrageous partner Maureen. Displaying some of the renegade energy of Sandra Bernhard (except a lot younger and cuter) in her solo “We’re Okay,” Higer takes the time to make this weird performance art piece both involving and amusing. And although he has no objet d’amour, Jesse Markowitz invests Mark with plenty of passion in his role as narrator.

Although the sound system was fuzzy, when it wasn’t bellowing audio feedback like a pre-orgasmic manatee, the ensemble songs came through load and clear. And the Act Two signature song, “Seasons of Love,” delivers every goose bump and then some.

Through March 1, produced by the
Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory,
Mayfield Village Civic Center, 6622 Wilson Mills Road,
Mayfield Village, 440-338-3171

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