Review: ‘RENT’ at Gateway Playhouse

The Gateway Playhouse opened its 68th Season with the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning musical, RENT. With book, music, and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, this artistic musical is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème. Directed by Matt Karis and choreographed by Gerry McIntyre, RENT is a fantastic production.

Michelle Veintimilla (Mimi), Anthony Festa (Roger), Moeisha McGill (Joanne), Natalie Storrs (Maureen), and Jeremy Greenbaum (Mark) in RENT. Photo by Jeff Bellante.

It’s the East Village of New York City at the turn of the new millennium. The dirt and grunge is thick on the surfaces and so potent in the air you can almost taste it. It is the home of artists and lovers, junkies and hedonists, many of whom are living with and slowly dying from AIDS. Mark (Jeremy Greenbaum) is an aspiring documentarian, constantly filming his roommate Roger (Anthony Festa) and their friends. He records their lives, their fear and despair, their dreams and loves. We follow them for a year, from Christmas to Christmas, witnesses to all of their “Seasons of Love.”

This cast is phenomenal. Not only are there many songs, but most of the dialogue in this show is in musical format as well. This half sung/half spoken structure is very difficult to execute, but this cast nails it. Greenbaum performs superbly as the slightly nerdy Mark. His clear and pleasing voice, combined with excellent facial expressions, add charm to his character. Festa once again gives a stunning performance at Gateway. He was last seen here playing Drew in Rock of Ages. Now, as Roger, his incredible rock vocals are again on display, notably in “One Song Glory.” The believable raw emotion with which he portrays Roger’s struggles will tug at your heart strings.

Michelle Veintimilla plays the tortured Mimi stunningly. Her beautiful voice, and enticing mix of graceful and sensuous movement are perfect for her character, and come to combined fruition in “Out Tonight.” Natalie Storrs as Maureen, and Moeisha McGill as Joanne portray this high-emotion, on again/off again couple extremely well. Joanne’s frazzled patience, and Maureen’s eccentricities come through wonderfully. Storrs’ execution of Maureen’s performance is inspired, and McGill and Greenbaum’s duet of “Tango Maureen” is definitely a highlight.

Andres Quintero (Angel) with Jared Dixon (Tom) in RENT. Photo by Jeff Bellante.

Tom Collins is touchingly portrayed by Jared Dixon. His marvelous vocals ring throughout the theater and are a pleasure to listen to. Drag Queen Angel is energetically and sweetly played by Andres Quintero. Kyle Robert Carter adds just the right amount of confident swagger for the stuck-up Benny.

The entire cast does a tremendous job with this challenging show. The well-known number “Seasons of Love” was extraordinary, and power-house Amma Osei amazes with her solo.

The fabulous set by designer Brittany Loesch was impeccably styled. The metal and brick multi-layered set accomplished exactly what was needed and complimented the feel of the story. Lighting Designer Jose Santiago brilliantly lit the stage with effects of light and shade, while great costumes from designer Dustin Cross completed the characters. The band, under direction from Andrew Haile Austin, played the frequently dissonant and discordant score with aplomb.

Rent is a raw and emotional look into love and life.

Running Time: Three hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

RENT plays through June 3, 2017, at The Gateway Playhouse – 215 South Country Road, in Bellport, NY. For tickets. call the box office at (631) 286-1133, or purchase them online.

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