By STEPHANIE OTTEY
Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize winner “Rent” has become an iconic show since it opened on Broadway in 1996. A reminder of the AIDS epidemic, the pop-rock legend is the most widely known musical that Youngstown State University has tackled in a long time.
In the past year, YSU has done a nice job of experimenting with edgier, more contemporary pieces, and “Rent” has the potential to be a great contribution to that effort. However, opening night had one major problem — microphones that wouldn’t cut off — and the show suffered slightly because of it.
Zach Cummins’ lighting design is highly stylized. He creates pictures with shadows and tastefully masks rather graphic scenes such as “Contact.”
The set is a nice representation of the original Broadway design without being a complete rip-off of it, and the costume and makeup designs are appropriate as well.
Director Scott R. Irelan takes the same approach in blocking and interpretation. Though scenes carry the same flavors as the original Broadway show, they aren’t duplicates. Irelan lets students take liberty with their characters, and music director Nancy Andersen Wolfgang allows them vocal freedom as well.
The performers use this freedom wisely. Wholeheartedly engaged, they are the reason this production is enjoyable.
“Rent” begins with an introduction from Mark, played by Paul Sauline. Sauline embraces Mark’s smug humor and then flips to share a believable dramatic performance as well.
Patrick Niess plays Roger with a vocal tone that is made for the angst-ridden rock star and delivers a note-perfect performance to boot. His voice stands out from the crowd and makes a lasting impression.
Opening weekend, Mimi is played by Kylie Davis. Her sweet face and youthful presence give Mimi a delicate quality that often gets lost in translation, and her voice has the right blend of pop and power.
Joseph Alvey shines like a lucky penny as Angel, brightening the stage with his presence.
Joshua Green is an absolute stand-out as Collins. His rich, vocal tone is captivating, and he displays unabashed emotion on stage. Hopefully, there is much more to come from Green.
Nikita Jones and Natalie Martzial are audience favorites as Joanne and Maureen. Their duet “Take Me or Leave Me” is a highlight of the show, as is Martzials interpretation of “Over the Moon.” These ladies are attention-grabbing.
Eric Shonk is appropriately unlikeable as Benny, and the remaining ensemble members create a chorus that is strong.
The negative impact comes from the sound design. The band plays a decent representation of the musical score — though it could have rocked harder and louder — but the microphones were riddled with problems. They didn’t cut out, as usual; instead, they remained on too long. A one-time offense could be forgiven, but microphones were left on backstage enough times that it became a side-show. Multiple numbers were ruined with backstage chatter that should have gone unheard. Hopefully, the issue will be fixed for future performances.
“Rent” runs weekends through Nov. 18 in Ford Theater, inside Bliss Hall, at Youngstown State University. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. For ticket information, call 330-941-3105.