Review: “Rent” (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

Jaymes Osborne, Savannah Quinn Hoover, Courtney Jones, Matt Edmonds, Charles Benson, Patrick Rooney/Photo: Adam Veness
Jaymes Osborne, Savannah Quinn Hoover, Courtney Jones, Matt Edmonds, Charles Benson, Patrick Rooney/Photo: Adam Veness

Show: Rent

Company: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

Venue: No Exit Cafe (6970 N Glenwood Ave)

Die Roll: 9

It’s been 22 years since Rent first came on the theatrical scene and “Seasons of Love” became the most overplayed song in every theatre kid’s CD collection.  Despite owning a copy of the original Broadway cast recording, I was never really driven to see the show.  Over the last 20 years I’ve seen plenty of copycat musicals, ones that through obvious aping of the musical stylings of Jonathan Larson, hoped to catch a bit of the magic that made the updated “La Boheme” the biggest stage hit of the 1990s.

Last week, I finally sat down in the audience of a production of “Rent”, and I’m glad to say that it wasn’t as a huge production.  In fact, the intimacy of director Scott Weinstein’s staging is something that makes this play truly sing to me.  Theo Ubique’s cabaret atmosphere and spacing is always something of a challenge, but it is also one that they almost always successfully conquer.  With “Rent” the staging feels so natural to the play and to the space, that one might think that the work was written specifically to be done just this way.

The environment into which the audience is immersed is created thanks to Adam Veness’ set, and also to an impressive team of street artists who brought an exciting array of wall art into the space.  There is a dilapidated industrial feel to the entire thing.  Into that creative vessel, Weinstein pours his young cast and they fill it up.

I mention that the cast is young, largely because they are all age appropriate to the parts that they are playing.  That also means that they are mostly newcomers to the Theo Ubique stage.  None of the regulars whom I’ve become accustomed to seeing in their work were present.  And though those familiar faces are always well appreciated, it is nice to see a full compliment of young, powerful performances on this stage.

RENT full res-8The cast is headed by Matt Edmonds (the only member of the cast with whose work I was previously familiar) as Mark.  He narrates the action, making a documentary film of his friends’ lives as squatters in a broken down New York City loft.  Edmonds infuses Mark with a solid and comfortable confidence that allows him to carry the show on his shoulders.  The rest of the cast is very good as well.  In fact, there isn’t a weak spot in the group.  That includes the ensemble members.  Mimi (Savannah Hoover) is intriguingly dangerous.  Courtney Jones is liquid sex as Maureen.  Nicole Michelle Haskins gives a performance as JoAnne that makes the character rival Mark as the glue that holds the show together.

Much of the action takes place on three main platforms at the front of the house, yet some of the most refreshing moments are when actors perform at various places throughout the tiny theatre’s house.  And, when the songs call for the full ensemble to sing, and the cast is standing at all the points of the compass, the sound is nigh on perfect.  Whether it was Weinstein or music director Jeremy Ramey who positioned the actors for those numbers, they nailed it. The blend of voices was wonderful.  You know how back in the late 80s we were told that the sound of a CD was like sitting amongst the orchestra?  Well, that’s what this was like.  I could have sworn I was sitting in the midst of the CD recording session of these songs.  It was fantastic.

I wholly and completely recommend this production, even if (like me) you have avoided seeing “Rent” prior to now.  This is what this musical should be.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Play and venue meld together perfectly in this intimate production.

RATING: d20- “One of the Best”