Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s production of RENT is a 100% student-run show from the director to the 17 actors who are making this flashback to the turn-of-the-century HIV/AIDS epidemic a moving testament to the level of understanding that these Millennials possess.
The musical is directed by Chad Vann, a sophomore at Hayfield Secondary School in Springfield, Va. He started the company with Sam Cornbrooks, a Junior from Robert E. Lee High School, also in Springfield, who serves as producer and technical director. Music Direction is by James Woods, a junior at Metropolitan School of the Arts Academy in Lorton, VA.
Jonathan Larson’s 1996 Broadway hit RENT, winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for drama, is based loosely on Puccini’s La Boheme. RENT follows a group of young artists and musicians struggling to create meaning in their lives as they squat in a freezing-cold loft in New York’s Lower East Side.
From the tentative opening guitar strains by Ben Cherington, who portrays a haunted Roger, to the ending realization by Danny Waldman as a likable Mark who sings, When you’re living in America at the end of the millennium, you’re what you own,” these young artists aren’t just miming illegal YouTube videos of the Broadway production, they really seem to understand the era they’re depicting.
Indeed, one appreciative father in the audience said his daughter often returned tear-stained from late-night rehearsals after group cries prompted by the emotional intensity of the subject matter.
Roger is a stalled songwriter who has lost his girlfriend to the disease and Mark is a documentarian who totes a 16-mm camera to document the large group homeless, jobless, creative friends over whom its spectre looms.
Representing the establishment is the convincing Noah Mutterperl as the preppy loft landlord Benny, who claims Bohemia is dead. He wants to do away with the neighboring tent city.
But Cara Bachman’s sultry Maureen character is staging a piece of quirky performance art that draws media attention to their plight (and on Saturday night, some delighted audience participation). She delivers “Over the Moon” with great power and humor.
At the heart of the show is Angel, sweetly played by Jordan Sledd, who gets Collins, an MIT dropout, performed by accomplished bass singer Shy Hinnant, into an AIDS support group. Their duet “You Okay Honey?” is wonderful.
Meanwhile, a relationship has developed between Roger and Mimi, an addict and night-club dancer portrayed with emotion by Kathy Oh, who, as a college sophomore, is the oldest person in the troupe. She capably delivers two hits from the Broadway production, a duet with Cherington called “Light My Candle,” and the solo “Out Tonight.”
Another strong singer and actress is Marcia Cunning, who portrays Maureen’s manager and love interest, Joanne. Their duet, “Take Me or Leave Me,” is a highlight, as is her duet with Waldman, “Tango: Maureen.”
This young company really shines in the medley ensemble numbers like “Christmas Bells,” which are so good they make me want to call them Metropolitan Youth Opera instead of Metropolitan Youth Theatre!
The talented ensemble is composed of Brian Perry, Ben Fluet, Aida Campos, Hailey Parker-Combes, Bethel Elias, Kyra Smith, Kimberly Geipel, Merritt Palmer, Kaitlyn Lunardi, Erin Coughlan, Trey Krause, and Usman Ishaq.
The designers did a fine job. Lighting was by Kyle Dannahey, Peter Maxwell Warasila provided the sound, props were supplied by Sarah Kelly, and Haley Parker-Combes designed the costumes.
As for the set, Sam Cornbrooks reported: “Little Butterfly Theatre Company’s used some of 1st Stage’s The Good Counselor set then built a few additional platforms for its production of American Idiot. We came in and moved a lot of the walls to different places and did a lot of graffiti. I would give credit across the board. It was a big team effort from all three companies.”
Kudos to the incredible band, which is composed of James Woods on piano, Noah Dail on guitar, Matt Yoshida on bass, and Kendell Haywood on drums – all fine musicians. Many of the students come from Metropolitan School of the Arts of Alexandria and Lorton. The company’s first show was The Last Five Years at Atlas Performing Arts Center in January.
Can’t wait to see what they do next!
Running Time: Two hour and half hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
Meet the Cast of The Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘RENT‘: Part 1: Marcia Cunning.
Meet the Cast of The Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘RENT’: Part 2: Jordan Sledd.
Meet the Cast of The Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘RENT’: Part 3: Ben Cherington.
Meet the Cast of The Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘RENT’: Part 4: Cara Bachman.
Meet the Cast of The Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘RENT’: Part 5: Danny Waldman.