Love those, from Des Moines to Toronto, only 850 miles, and back in less than three days. Jenn Pease suggested we meet at the Royal Alex Theatre to see the new cast and this guy named Luther playing a new role. She, Annie, and Heather got there by bus early enough to get in front of the line Saturday morning and save a ticket for me.
Jenn's preamble stating her experience viewing RENT is an important frame of reference for both of us. I have seen 6 marks, 4 rogers, 6 mimis, 6 collinses, 5 angels 5 joannes, 5 maureens, 5 bennys ... the various casts, time frames, and number of performances (parentheses) involved are -
that is important because I am viewing the production from experience very specific to casts as they had developed at the time I saw them. I saw a very mature obc, almost a full year into its run, probably close to its peak of technical proficiency. Whether at that time it had lost any of its intensity I do not know. I loved what I saw and it got me hooked for good. The angel cast I saw in its 1 0 week run in st. Paul had been together for the most part more than 7 months, and it showed. When I saw them two months later in chicago after completing the d.c. run, they had without exception improved every aspect of their performance. They not only had not lost intensity, they had increased it. Especially manley, Christian and simone. The benny cast I saw in la joila in July had been performing before audiences less than 2 weeks and it showed. Neil and d'monroe were about the only bright spots, and they were rough in a lot of spots. Timing so important to so many aspects of the show was lacking, and the contrast with what I had just seen, and would immediately after see again, in st. Paul was dramatic. When I saw them again 2 months later in l.a., the difference was astounding. Neil was much more physical and comfortable in the role of mark, Christian had lost some of the pretty boy stuff in his appearance and his voice, wilson was an absolutely fabulous angel, and d'monroe a great benny. More importantly, the timing was there and the roller coaster of emotions the show can and should be was electric.
With that background, and having seen all those individuals interpret the roles in this incredible show, I couldn't believe what I saw in toronto. That a cast performing in previews less than two weeks before audiences could be that good, all the way up and down the line, individually and collectively, was amazing.
Leading the list was luther. From the first time I saw him do mark, the first performance in st. Paul, 6\5\97, 1 liked his laid back interpretation. I know a lot of people don't share that view, but as I saw manley grow by leaps and bounds into the character of roger, gaining intensity and confidence in his acting and singing, the contrast between them grew. That was fine as long as luther was mark, since his interpretation of the role was always consistent. But when I heard luther was going to be roger in toronto, it didn't compute at all. It does now.
The boy must have an intensity switch somewhere, because he uses it to perfection now. As jenn describes, he feathers his performance beautifully, starting with a very laid back, quizzical LMC with krysten - modulated, touching, funny and kind of sad in a way. His reaction to her thereafter in AD was very much as jenn describes - complex, troubled, totally off-balance - he doesn't know what to do with this dynamo. Jenn's reference to foreplay describing roger's relationship with mimi until the finale and "our eyes" is well taken, and I can't improve on it. I don't agree that the way it was done loses a little sexiness, however. From LMC to conclusion the implicit and explicit tension between the two is sexual, at some times almost animal in its intensity. Both come to the brink continually, and first one then the other backs away, and sometimes both simultaneously. Jenn couldn't be more right that this way of playing the roles sets up the ending for maximum effect. Read her stuff on this, its great. I also agree completely with her conclusion that luther's roger is funny in character, albeit a very sardonic, and deprecating humor - the boy does have an esteem problem. Luther's interpretation of these aspects is subtle and beautifully done. As she says, he can drop the act with mimi, when he lets it happen, but he continually backs away until the finale. His singing of OSG and his gestures are the most interesting I have seen. His "tucked- in" presence at the outset perfectly suits his vocal interpretation. Jenn's description of LMC is perfect. it was very cute and funny, just as it should be, but not always is. The only thing she omits is luther's problem with the damn matches. he must have burned four of them before he finally got it lit the first time, at least six bars too late. Krysten just stood there and gave him a chesire smile, ever wider, making it more difficult. After the show, Jenn suggested he use a lighter in the future, but Luther demurred in view of the "last match" lyric. I didn't find any issue with the consonants that she expresses, but I agree completely that his voice in WY is exceptionally well suited to the song. I also feel that his OSG is overall the flat out best I have heard, and I love manley's version now. Luther's intensity in the opening of GL with mimi is so real he is physically trembling after his "all your words are nice ... but love's not a three way street ..." lines to mimi when collins tears him away - he was shaking from head to foot. His "mimi" wail in the finale is absolutely bone chilling. What a fabulous performance.
Now to mimi. Krysten is one sexy young lady, and she plays beautifully with luther. She very much appears to be 19 (or even 16). Jenn is exactly right that the way she and roger get together is very believable, and pleasing from an audience perspective. Her playfulness in happy new year is so spontaneous that luther despite himself has no choice but to display a "wide open grin" and it is wide and very, very genuine. She is cracking him up. I don't agree that she was strained in OT. She doesn't handle the falsetto as well as some, but still she sings very well, and her GL is absolutely beautiful. She tears your heart out with her closing lines "hello disease". The cracking of her voice is perfect.
Chad as mark is solid. If he is this good after a couple of weeks, he will become much better, witness what I saw with neil. His interaction with joanne in TM was really good, although I have seen a couple better (luther and sylvia, neil and kenna). What he will develop is what luther had and neil is getting over time, and anthony always had, the ability to project that loner, outside looking in, an observer and not a participant. Cute won't do that, but he'll get there. A fine voice.
Angel - jai rodriguez - this boy is very good already, but he won't qualify as my favorite yet. Stephen, wilson (cruz) and shaun are in a dead heat for that position - although all for different reasons. for openers, he needs work on the "vaulting aspects" of the job. That will come with time. He looks quite athletic. Have you folks seen wilson not only jump on the table with 4 or 5 inches to spare, but jump on the folding chair at the conclusion of T4U?) He definitely fits the role, and as soon as he develops the dancing moves and gets more experience with Contact he will be even more enjoyable to watch. Don't get me wrong, not a weak link, just has a little further to go than some of the others.
Collins - danny blanco - he fit very well with tai, a lot of synergy there. After a while it may reach the level of stephen or shaun with c.c., and wilson cruz with anybody, and with this kind of a start, don't bet against it. I agree with all of jenn's comments here, his ICY reprise was beautiful. Not c.c., but close.
Maureen - Jennifer aubrey - I agree with jenn, she just looks too old, and plays too old for my perception of the part. I am used to dancers, athlete's playing the part - amy, carla, idina - in OTM with the slurping line, she couldn't even bend over backwards. She certainly didn't climb all over the chairs like a monkey in TMOLM like amy and caria do. Just a prejudice of mine, I guess. That aside, she sings very well, does some good shtick in OTM that is very entertaining (I enjoyed her evening performance much better than the matinee, and so did the crowd), and she matches well with joanne in TMOLM, but not, at least not yet, in the league of arny\sylvia and carla\kenna. Her LVB was good, but again I am used to amy's totally off the wall behavior. She and chad did some really neat "birthing" with the "oh little town of bethlehem" line though. As jenn said, the tongue biting sequence is hilarious if done right (see sylvia and amy), but it wasn't here. Jenn is right about a "real lesbian" - I hadn't articulated that until she said it, but she is right. There never is any question theatrically what amy, caria and idina are, and there shouldn't be any question..
Joanne - karen leblane - great voice, probably because it sounds so much like sylvia. Her TM was very, very good. She and chad fit very well. Very solid job. I want to see her again. she will get much better.
Benny - damian perkins - here I have to part with jenn, at least as far as her, eh, physical attraction to the boy. He really was good though. A different take on the role as she describes, and his transformation in the second act is very believable and beautifully done. The breakdown in GL is really something, it is so real. We talked to him about it after the matinee, and he said it just happens - the show affects him that way every time. he realizes in character what he has done, and just can't handle it. It is a special moment, one among many with this group. Read jenn's comments, they are so apt.
Soloist and bag lady - divine essence brown - a fine bag lady, with an exceptional voice. As an aside, has anyone else noticed how the reaction to the "motherfucking artist" and 49 got a dollar" lines vary from city to city? Toronto is one of those cities that react with nervous laughter, and even scattered applause in the night show. At st. Paul and chicago, dead silence every time. The same thing happens with gordon's new yorker and fear's my life lines, some laugh on first line (toronto and l.a.) and some laugh on the second, (newyork and chicago) Her solo is very in character, and it comes across much better in person than the bootleg would indicate, for those of you have commented on it.
Gordon - dean balkwill - not a fabulous gordon, but a very good one
Mr. Jefferson, caroler - david st. Louis - this guy is fabulous. What a set of pipes, penetrating and powerful. Everything he did was outstanding. His track should include collins understudy, and I have to see that sometime.
Dancing - sante fe and contact - quite good, but not close yet to what I see with the angel and benny casts - particularly d'monroe with the latter. That boy can dance.
The band - not to the level of the angel and benny casts yet, which is understandable But very solid.
Theatre - gorgeous. Can't comment on the acoustics, not sifting in the first row both times.
Toronto - great city. Want to go back, and believe me,I will. Anyone want to do a ROAD TRIP? Email me!!!!!!!!!!!
Review written by: Frank