Rent: School Edition

Oh lordy. There are times when it can be tough to be a reviewer, because the last thing you want to do is crush the hopes and dreams of schoolkids on an awfully big adventure, but at the same time you have to recognise that putting yourself in the Fringe programme and offering tickets for sale to the public means you expose yourself to the same scrutiny other shows expect; and often seek out. True, this show is a High School production, but as previous years have seen some of the most exceptional work on the Fringe coming out of the American High School Theatre Festival, that shouldn’t be an excuse. So the best thing I think I can do is offer as much constructive criticism as I can with the intention of helping these kids improve their performance, rather than attempt to be witty with one-liners that only serve to upset.Let me start out by saying at times this show was oh-so-nearly there, but my inner voice was screaming ‘go on, give it some passion’. For that was the biggest thing missing tonight. Rent is a musical that stares you in the eye with a knife in its hand and demands you pay attention, and the problem with this production was it lacked conviction in the delivery. Particularly in the ensemble work, the kids swayed uneasily from one foot to the other and sang their lines without really meaning those words. Some looked positively disinterested. It needs power and connection with the audience – the cast need to challenge the room with Larson’s politically charged lyrics, and that means believing what you belt out.In the specific roles, Josh Kaufmann as Mark and Steven Rigaux as Roger showed promise, but like much of tonight it was underpowered. Becca Murphy as Mimi – and there’s no easy waying of saying this – was miscast. She struggled with her higher register, and did not make a convincingly starving druggy pole dancer. Josh Coyne as Collins was great when he found the power in his voice, but had a very annoying habit of staring at the ceiling almost all the way through, which made him totally disconnected from the audience. Josh Simon as Angel was actually pretty good, but the outfit & wig he was put in was bad drag, and nothing like the sort of thing fashion icon Angel would actually wear. Both Sarah Anne Sillers as Maureen and Shelby Sykes as Joanne turned in reasonable performances throughout, but I couldn’t help thinking their talent was being brought down by the general energy on the stage. The overall show was also marred by unimaginative lighting, making the whole thing look pretty static. Sorry. I so wanted to love this, but felt disappointed by half-hearted effort.It was mostly a home-crowd in the audience, so they loved it. And, to be honest, it wasn’t horrible, it just had fixable problems. If they can find the power and passion in their voices and sing directly at the audience with conviction and not shuffle awkwardly mouthing the words to each other, then it’ll raise this show to greatness.

Reviews by Pete Shaw

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The Blurb

Jonathan Larson's triumph comes to the Fringe through the extraordinarily talented students from Winston Churchill HS in Potomac, Maryland. This version has been edited by the rights holder to appeal to a wider audience, including younger teens.

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