Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Rent" Rises in Phoenix

by Pa Rock
Theatre Aficionado

The Phoenix Theatre brought the curtain up on its 93rd season last night with Rent - a musical look at a group of young people who form a family bond while struggling to survive on the mean streets of New York City during the AIDS epidemic.  The story, told through dynamic rock music, is a soul-wrenching tour through the bowels and heart of a great city.

As with all productions at the newly renovated Phoenix Theatre, the cast performed flawlessly.  Jeffrey Wei as the romantic transvestite, Angel, and Lee Hollis Bussie who played Angel's boyfriend, Collins, were exceptionally noteworthy, as were Preston Ellis (Roger, the young songwriter) and Marisha Castle who portrayed his junkie/stripper (and highly sympathetic) girlfriend, Mimi.   Miss Castle's powerful voice could rattle teacups all the way over in Tempe.

Rent is what I would consider to be the third of four great musical street dramas set in New York City. It was preceded on the stage by West Side Story and Hair, and Into the Heights came along in its wake.   Rent's most closely related antecedent, at least in my opinion, is the sixties "tribal" rock musical, Hair.   While Hair is built around resistance to the war in Vietnam and the joyful use of marijuana, Rent has brought life in the same city a couple of decades on down the road and shows a much more grim  reality with its focus on AIDS and intravenous drug use - still with great music, however!

Somehow I scored a front row ticket to the show (that happens sometimes when you order as a single and are available to fill gaps in the seating).  That location almost put me within sweat-slinging distance of the cast, but it also gave me an astonishingly close-up view of the stagecraft that goes into creating such a complicated and exciting production.  A great deal of brilliance and elbow grease went into putting this show together.

It was a wonderful night at the theatre - and the new seats are awesome!

1 comment:

Xobekim said...

Nice to know all is not intolerable in Arizona. Perhaps summer theater at Mo. State, or trips to Starlight or the new, the awesome Kaufman Performing Arts center in K.C. can prove to be as enjoyable for your retirement.