Sunday, November 15, 2009

Everything is RENT!

I had the pleasure of catching the matinee performance of RENT the Broadway tour today. In my playbill a note about the plot was provided for those not familiar with the show. Here is what it says: "Benny is Mark and Roger's former roommate. With the help of his wealthy father-in-law, Benny has bought the building in which Mark and Roger live, and the lot next door that is inhabited by a group of homeless people. Benny wants to build a high-tech cyber-arts studio on the property. Toward this end, he plans to clear the homeless from the lot and evict all the tenants from the building, including Mark and Roger. Mark's former lover; Maureen who leaves him for a lawyer named Joanne, schedules a performance protest of Benny's scheme for midnight on Christmas Eve. Benny offers a deal to Mark and Roger: if they convince Maureen to stop her protest, they can stay in the building rent-free. At the end of Act 1, Maureen stages her performance. A riot erupts in the lot, which Mark videotapes. Then Benny padlocks the building, locking out all the tenants. Act 2 begins on New Year's Eve as Mark, Roger and friends attempt to break back into the building. The rest of the act follows the events of the year." That is a really bare synopsis of what really is an amazing show.
To sum up the performance in one word simply would not do the show justice. As a dedicated RENThead I know so many things about RENT that I could dedicate a whole other blog to just RENT trivia. I'm going to start from the beginning...
Sunday November 15th 2009, 1pm Central Standard Time I found myself sitting in the auditorium of the Des Moines Civic center waiting for RENT to begin. The show usually begins ten minutes after the official printed time. I had already bought my souvenir program and Tshirt. (I always buy a program and tshirt from every show that I see.) They were sitting snugly in the canvas drawstring bag that came with my purchase on the floor by my seat. I had checked out the cast board and looked for an understudy announcement. To my delight there were no understudies! I got to see all of the main cast and I was ecstatic! I'll explain my excitement of no understudies in a later blog...

All that needed to happen now was for Adam Pascal to walk on stage and strum a few chords on his fender guitar thus starting this epic rock musical. The crowd erupted in applause at the entrance of each main cast member. I could not believe that I was in the presence of Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal from the original Broadway and movie cast of RENT. This was epic!

I did my research on every cast member on the tour before I even knew it was coming to Des Moines. Anthony(Mark Cohen) and Adam(Roger Davis) were easy. They were in the movie and I had heard them sing on the Original Broadway cast recording. Gwen Stewart(Mrs. Jefferson, Bag lady and female soloist), Michael McElroy(Tom Collins) and Justin Johnson(Angel Dumott Schunard) were easy too. I own the last performance of RENT: Filmed Live on Broadway DVD. Gwen, Michael and Justin were all in the final closing cast of RENT. Gwen is also on the Original Broadway cast recording. The other cast members who were lucky enough to be subjected to youtube were a bit harder. A combination of my computer speakers and simple recording devices, the voices of Nicolette Hart (Maureen Johnson), Haneefah Wood(Joanne Jefferson) and Lexi Lawson(Mimi Marquez) were made to sound like these wonderful talented ladies didn't know how to sing their way out of a paper bag. Some of the recordings are just horrible. I checked out a recording of Nicolette and Haneefah singing my favorite song 'Take me or Leave me' and I was seriously disappointed. I was not looking forward to having my favorite song butchered nor was I looking forward to listening to voices that I simply couldn't stand to hear.

Oh, how I was proven wrong! Lexi Lawson was the first of the three previous ladies to come on stage and sing a number. Her voice blew me away during 'Light My Candle' and again in 'Out Tonight'. This girl can sing! She auditioned for season 8 of American Idol and got all the way to Hollywood week when her agent called her and said that the RENT tour wanted her to play Mimi. I am so glad she took the job! Haneefah Wood was the next to perform. Her duet with Anthony 'The Tango: Maureen' was one of the best I have seen and heard. It doesn't quite match Tracie Thoms, but she was my first Joanne so I'm a little biased. Her only solo number "We're Okay" also couldn't quite match Tracie but it was still amazing. Her vocal power was enough for me to feel the vibration from the speakers everytime she sung. Nicolette was the last of the three ladies to perform. We only see Maureen in silhouette during the first part of act one so when she shows up to do her performance protest 'Over the Moon' all the hype turned into major applause from the audience. I have seen Idina Menzel and Eden Espinosa perform 'Over the Moon' and each performance is a little bit different because each woman plays the character of Maureen in a different way. Nicolette's performance was by far the most entertaining. She put so much energy into her performance and she sung the shit out of the singing parts. She riffed a little different on the line "A Leap of Faith" than how Idina and Eden riffed on it. My biggest fear was that at the end of 'Over the Moon' when Maureen asks the audience to "Moo" with her that nobody would moo. To my delight and great excitement people actually mooed. I'm proud to admit that I was one of those moo-ers. Nicolette really knows how to work a crowd, either that or there were a ton of RENTheads in the audience(RENTheads always moo). I have to give the girl major props for showing her bare ass to thousands of people on an almost daily basis. Maureen moons Benny and the crowd during 'La Vie Boheme'. The next song that I was waiting for was 'Take me or Leave me'. I had to wait through the whole first act and three numbers of the second act until I could see my favorite song performed live right before my eyes. The long wait was totally worth it! Nicolette and Haneefah blew. My. Mind. I can't even put into words how I felt while they were singing that song. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

I could go through and review the entire show but then this blog post would be enormously long, well longer than it already is. I will eventually review all of the numbers in my concert review for my music class. To sum up my experience: I went in with the attitude that I wasn't going to be impressed by this cast but when I walked out my attitude had done a complete 180. I definitely got my money's worth and then some. After the show I waited in the cold by the stage door to try to get some autographs. I was successful! The first person to walk out was Nicolette. She was one of the people I was hoping to get an autograph from. She signed the playbills of the people ahead of me and thanked them for their compliments without really looking up, then when she got to me she saw my tie that I wearing, looked up and actually said Hi to me. I was on cloud nine for about five minutes until Anthony Rapp came out. He was the second to come out and sadly the last. I snapped a picture of him on my phone but I think I moved it away too fast because all I got was a blur. I was kinda bummed about that but maybe if I go back later tonight I can get pictures and more autographs.
Update: I totally went back to the stage door to get more autographs! I got two more autographs and a picture of Gwen Stewart.
Anthony Rapp came out again but I missed him. John Watson who plays Mr. Jefferson came out first. He gave me crap for not wearing warmer clothes because I looked cold. I proceeded to show him how tiny I am but he still gave me crap anyway! That experience right there made the second trip totally worth it. I will never forget talking to him. Gwen Stewart came out next and she was sadly the last to come out the stage door. I got a picture of her and her autograph. Both she and John stopped to take pictures with everybody. Gwen is very pretty in real life and she's very sweet. I didn't get a chance to tell her how honored I was to be able to see such an amazing show and how it has impacted my life. RENT actually helped me realize that I'm gay and the also helped me come out.
The top picture is all four of my autographs on the inside page of my program. The second picture is Gwen Stewart signing autographs, it's kind of blurry because I took it on my phone. The third picture is Anthony Rapp's autograph. The fourth picture is Nicolette Hart's autograph. The fifth picture is John Watson's autograph. The last picture is Gwen Stewart's autograph.

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