It’s the rock musical of young bohemians and art and dreams and drug addiction and AIDS. And love. It’s Rent, and since the school edition was released, many of the more daring youth theatre companies have been eager to stage it and let the youth of America explore the serious issues they are beginning to encounter. While testing their rock vocals at the same time.

Children’s Musical Theatre in San Jose, one of the largest youth theatre companies in the country, recently wrapped up their terrific production of Rent, and with enough talent to fill up two casts. On the evening I attended, Sam Lerner and Joey Pisacane filled the roles of Mark Cohen and Roger Davis – two twentysomething artists scraping by in a skid row apartment building who suddenly have a rent problem. Although, keeping a roof over the heads is far from their only trials. Mark, who just lost his girlfriend to a girl, wants to be a documentary filmmaker. Sam Lerner is great in the role, a kind of nerdy side to him but a cool side as well that makes it believable he used to be with an ultra-cool girlfriend. When he gets called out for filming life instead of experiencing it, you see it hit home with him – leaving him shaken. Meanwhile, roommate Roger has been diagnosed with HIV, notified of it in his girlfriend’s suicide note. A guitar player and singer, he hopes to write one great song before he loses his battle. Joey Pisacane has a good rough edge and moody protectiveness about him, and does very well with the tough vocals.

He has to sing a lot of those vocals with his potential new girlfriend, exotic dancer Mimi. Marion Wellington’s dancing is uninhibited, exotic, and fearless (she does some pretty good moves standing on the railing high above the stage), and she proves to be a good actress and vocalist as well, especially when their relationship faces its most difficult hurdles.

Mark isn’t having a lot of luck with the ladies. Lawyer Joanne Jefferson (Alia Hodge) stole his Maureen away, but they can still find some humor about their shared difficulties of being Maureen’s significant other in the Tango Maureen. The character of Maureen gets rocked by triple threat Adrienne Eller, her Over the Moon poetry reading is as good as it gets, and she does it all with a terrific sense of humor and knockout vocals that are joined with Alia’s in their magnificently performed cat fight Take Me or Leave Me.

Other highlights include a great performance by Bryant Montalvo as Angel, a happy and charismatic transvestite who dances a diverting and entertaining Today 4 U and spreads a lot of love throughout the show (except to doggies living on the 23rd floor). As Collins, Chris Renalds is Angel’s grateful, sensitive, and emotional lover. Matthew Alpert is appropriately annoying but real as businessman and former friend Benjamin Coffin III who has dreams of his own. The ensemble includes many strong soloists and, as a whole, they are both dynamic in their passion for life and quietly touching in the show’s more poignant moments.

Director and Choreographer Kevin R. Hauge, the long-time artistic director of CMT, has put together a most impressive cast and crew for this show that captures the atmosphere and emotions of Jonathan Larson’s story, taking us to the edge of despair brought by sickness and death, and the celebration of life as seen in their fun, sensual, and joyous La Vie Boheme.

Performs March 6-15, 2009.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Roger Davis: Joey Pisacane
Mark Cohen: Sam Lerner
Mrs. Cohen: Emma Blickenstaff
Tom Collins: Chris Renalds
Benjamin Coffin III: Matthew Alpert
Joanne Jefferson: Alia Hodge
Angel Schunard: Bryant Montalvo
Mimi Marquez: Marion Wellington
Mr. Jefferson: Brent Miller
Mrs. Jefferson: Laura Mavrakakis
Vendor: Emma Blickenstaff
Maureen Johnson: Adrienne Eller
Steve: Trevor Schmidt
Gordon: Rob Canali
Paul: Johannes Heine
Woman with Bags: Arley DeLaRoche
Mr. Grey: John Proudfoot
Restaurant Man: Nick Perry
Seasons Soloists: Christine Jones and Allen Hernandez
Alexi Darling: Erin Ortegon
I'll Cover You Soloist: Laura Mavrakakis
Mrs. Marquez: Tanya Benitez
Mrs. Davis: Chelsea Allen
New Yorkers:
Dann Abel
Chelsea Allen
Robert Avery
Tanya Benitez
Emma Blickenstaff
Jerry Campisi
Rob Canali
Arley DeLaRoche
Erica Dorner
Jensen Fabris
Stephanie Faso
Nina Feliciano
Emily Ferguson
Megan Fox
Emily Galaski
Allen Hernandez
David Hernandez
Gabriel Gonzalvez
Cameron Hempstead
Johannes Heine
Allen Hernandez
Alyssa Jepsky
Christine Jones
Elena Livak
Kaelie Lovejoy
Cailin Mackenzie
Laura Mavrakakis
Brent Miller
Melissa Olmos
Erin Ortegon
Krista Pavloff
Nick Perry
Ryan Powell
John Proudfoot
Jason Rehklau
Trevor Schmidt
TJ Sonnier
Tiana Tuttle
Ashley Urbanski
Alice Walton
Travis Watkins

Director and Choreographer: Kevin R. Hauge
Vocal Director: Katie Coleman
Musical Director: Amie Jan
Set Designer: James K. Culley
Lighting Designer: Chad Bonaker
Costume Design: Richard W. Battle
On Stage Visual Effects: Josh Miyaji
Stage Manager: Scott Canali


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