Rent: School Edition
by Riverdale Rising Stars

The student edition of Jonathan Larson’s Rent quickly became the hottest thing in youth theatre, and thanks to Riverdale Rising Stars it got a great run in the city where the story is set. Well, just a little north of Manhattan at the Riverdale YM-YWHA in the Bronx where the Riverdale Rising Stars took on the show under the direction of Laurie Walton. They’ve created an impressive production with a cast that is as focused on the characters as they are on the challenging vocals.

The rock musical gives us a glimpse into the lives of young twentysomething friends in NYC during the late 1990s, dealing with such mature subjects as drugs, AIDS, and all manner of sexual issues. And at the heart of it all are Roger and Mimi, both suffering from AIDS, Mimi still struggling with a drug addiction, Roger struggling to live while knowing how short his time may be.

Alex Walton and Mason Taub, friends and co-stars since early childhood, have an instant chemistry as Roger and Mimi that they feed off from their first scene of the playful Light My Candle to their closing number Your Eyes. Mason captures her character’s emotions deeply and realistically, whether she’s aggressively pursuing a night out with Roger or connecting with Roger on a caring, compassionate level as they both struggle with their disease and fear. Alex nails his vocals and his internal, often bitter struggle that is palpable from his opening scene to show’s closing.

His roommate Mark is played by another long-time friend and co-star, Niko Gelfars, reprising roles they also performed at their high school, and they seem natural as roommate friends pushing each other’s buttons but still close. He also delivers a fun Tango Maureen with his former girlfriend’s lesbian lover Joanne (Ariel Saul). That former girlfriend is, of course, Maureen, with Emily Trambert portraying the role with likeable style and a strong, easy confidence and sensuality. Fourteen-year-old Bobby Esnard is a sweet and feminine transvestite Angel without overdoing it. His boyfriend Collins features Philip Feldman whose talent shines leading the Santa Fe number. Their scene as Collins comforts Angel in the hospital while Mimi and Roger sing Without You is beautifully and powerfully staged.

Elsewhere, the often forgettable character of Benny, the former roommate of Roger and Mark who is now threatening to kick them out of the apartment building he controls, gets an especially strong performance from Russell Soifer-Gorelick who has both outstanding vocals and a natural feel for the character whose concern for former close friends is not eclipsed by his pragmatic business decisions. And the talented ensemble gets the show kicked off in lively style while inhabiting countless supporting roles and nailing the big La Vie Boheme as the young Bohemians embrace freedom, life, and love.

Performed December 6 - 21, 2008

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Roger: Alex Walton
Mark: Niko Gelfars
Mimi: Mason Taub
Collins: Philip Feldman
Angel: Bobby Esnard
Maureen: Emily Trambert
Benny: Russell Soifer-Gorelick
Joanne: Ariel Saul
Alexi Darling/Homeless Person/Ali: Sabrina Berfas
Mrs. Jefferson/Seasons Soloist/Blanket Lady: Daphna Weinstock
Gordon/Seasons Soloist/Minister: Josh Prenner
Mark's Mom/Pam: Rebecca Abrams
The Man/Homeless Person/Thug: David Newman
Paul/Policeman: Charles Lerner
Steve/Homeless Person/Restaurant Man: Ryan Esnard
Homeless Person/Mr. Jefferson: Ben Hirschfeld
Sue/Homeless Person: Elise Levinger
Roger's Mom/Homeless Person: Grace McCauley
Squeegee Man/Thug: Sam Piland
Homeless Person: Jessica Lavery
Mr. Grey/Policeman: Eric Berger
Policeman: Tanasi Gomez Greene
Over the Moon Singer/Swings:
Murphy Harr
Keila Zayas
Leah Ditmore
Lea Cohen
Beatrix Parola
Lily Feldman

Director: Laurie Walton
Musical Direction: Remy Kurs
Choreography: Emily Walton
Set Design: Eric Zoback
Sound: Carter Smith
Lighting: David Pentz
Sound Design: Dennis Eberly
Costume Coordination: Penny Margeones


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