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RENT Leary Theatre/Niagara University
Apr 27, 2024, 09:23
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Through May 5
RENT Leary Theatre/Niagara University Theatre

By Augustine Warner

For a university theater program to commit to Jonathan Larson’s “RENT,” is a roll of the dice.
A professional theater can look at who is available and hold auditions and cherry-pick cast members.
A theater program must live with its apprentice performers and who will be available on campus, perhaps a year later.
At the same time, a college program doesn’t have to pay its performers so the casts can be much larger, giving those in smaller roles a chance to feel what’s it’s like on stage when the conductor drops the baton or when Chorus announces the story of Verona.
Niagara University’s production of “RENT” shows what students can do with difficult material.
It’s a great show, with strong singing in a time when good male voices aren’t common, well- choreographed dancing by Terri Vaughan and the third enveloping set design I have seen recently from David Dwyer.
Larson spent years taking Puccini’s “La Bohème,” with its mix of lethal TB, starving artists and the terrible income disparities of late 19th Century Paris and turning it into the New York City’s East Village a century later, with rapacious landlords, starving artists and the lethal plague of AIDS.
That’s AIDS a few years into the accumulating deaths, when doctors realized it was more than just gay males dying, perhaps allowing the medical research which turned the retrovirus from a death sentence to a disease people of many kinds could live with, long-term.
The characters include many people who are infected.
There are so many characters in the show and so much backstory, it’s hard to recount the plot because everything changes so much in the year the play covers and so many lives change and one principal character dies, Angel Dumott Schunard (Jamarion Evans).
The basic difference between the two shows is the difference between Puccini’s opera music and Larson’s late Twentieth Century pounding rock.
A principal character, Brianna Garcia’s Mimi Marquez, seems to die but comes back.
Puccini kills off his Mimi, dying from TB.
The rest of the cast grows, develops and carries on, as they move on in life, shaped by what has happened in their lives in the year of “RENT.”
The show is filled with great music, “Rent” from Mark (Hayden Carr), Roger (Justin Kochetta), Collins (Austin Marshall), Benny (Isaac Hohl), Joanne (Lauren Farrow) and the Company; “Over the Moon” from Maureen (Julia Cianfrini); “La Vie Bohème B” from the company; and, Mark’s “Halloween.”
Director Steve Braddock and music director Bridget Moriarty have the band up on a balcony, more or less out of the line of sight of the audience, leaving the stage floor between o the cast.
There’s also a lot of well-designed set equipment, quickly moved around so that the show moves along.
That’s needed because there is so much plot and so much music in the show to get through.
“RENT” is unusually long for a modern musical, up from the two hours usual today, suggesting it must be hard on performers when they do this twice a day.
The audience gets to enjoy it once and it should.
This is a well-done and well-crafted production, with lots of strong performances.
“RENT”</b is the kind of show where there are almost too many

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