PAY THE RENT: Mimes musical impresses even this skeptic

10991071_10203591008003505_6759628895237250482_nFordham Daily says: Go see it!

Thursday, February 26 – Saturday, February 28 at 8:00pm
Sunday, March 1 at 2:00pm

How do you measure the success of a show?

For a musical like Rent, which this reviewer has never been a big fan of, one good metric is audience engagement — and the capacity crowd at Collins Auditorium Thursday night was certainly feeling the love.

Even the most ardent Rent skeptic, however, couldn’t help but be impressed by the prodigious talent on display in the Mimes and Mummers’ rocking production.

Inspired by Puccini’s La bohéme, Rent follows a group of struggling artists in the East Village at the height of the AIDs epidemic. As they fight to survive, love and loss commingle as their relationships are tested.

Director/choreographer Brendan Stackhouse has made some interesting choices to center the action. First and foremost, the entire cast is onstage for the full show, which is disconcerting at first but adds to the musical’s communal East Village milieu. He has also seated the band onstage, and their awesome jamming is one of the show’s best elements.

Jack Andersen and Pat McCarthy’s graffiti-riddled set perfectly evokes the grittiness of ‘80s Manhattan.

The rational filmmaker Mark and his musician roommate Roger, who hopes to write one great song, anchor the show. Luke Witherell and Christian Eble have great chemistry in these roles, particularly during their second act duet “What You Own.”

Roger’s love interest Mimi, played with fiery passion by Meghan Bailey, shows her romantic side when the couple duets on the suggestive “Light My Candle.” She also gets a chance to shine solo during “Out Tonight,” a wild, fun number.

Mark has bad memories from his relationship with the flirtatious Maureen, and from the moment she appears Laura Hetherington proves she’s bad news. The thing is she’s also irresistible- her performance piece “Over the Moon” may be hilariously flamboyant, but it also shows off her great charisma.

Vanessa Agovida dramatizes the tightrope walk that Joanne, Maureen’s new girlfriend, has to go on to keep her affections- she and Mark bond over their mistrust during the spicy “Tango: Maureen.” By act two, the tension between Maureen and Joanne boils over, leading to “Take Me or Leave Me,” a jazzily dramatic duet, and a show highlight thanks to Hetherington and Agovida’s dynamic performances.

The most heart-tugging portion of the show is the relationship between anarchist Collins and drag queen Angel, beautifully acted by Chris Boland and Nick Lopresto. When they first meet Angel is a source of comic relief, as shown in the percussive, flirty “Today 4 U.” But as their relationship evolves true tenderness develops, and their duet “I’ll Cover You” brings on the waterworks.

The one technical issue on opening night was the mic problems, which caused actors’ voices to fade in and out and led to some late entrances and exits- this will hopefully be rectified for the other weekend performances.

Rent is still an acquired taste, but when it’s pulled off as well as the Mimes production is, it’s well worth checking out. Between Spamalot and this show, the Mimes have proven they can pull off both the silliest and most serious modern musicals.

Luke Witherell as Mark Cohen
Christian Eble as Roger Davis
Meghan Bailey as Mimi Marquez
Chris Boland as Tom Collins
Nick Lopresto as Angel Dumott Stunned
Laura Hetherington as Maureen Johnson

Vanessa Agovida as Joanne Jefferson
Dean Ramos as Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III
Sally Beriont, Jamie Connors, Michelle Corr, and Christina Millamena as Female Ensemble members
Kyle McKee, Glen Morrice, Chris Pedro, and Philip Reilly as Male Ensemble members