Category Archives: Rent

Some shows are better, bigger (Guest Post)

Today’s post is written by guest blogger, Rebecca Coleman.  To view Musicals in Vancouver’s response, check out our guest post at the Art of the Business blog

I love independent theatre. It’s where I live, it’s where my heart is, and it’s where I make my living.

But I also love theatre in general, and, while I tend to hang out in the indie scene, I’ll go see pretty much anything going.

A few months back, I went to see Les Misérables at The Arts Club, and a couple of weeks ago, Rent at Presentation House.

First, you have to understand that these two musicals hold significant sentimental value for me. Les Miz was my favorite musical for a long, long time, and it was only replaced in my heart when Rent came along. I knew all the words in Les Miz, and used to daydream about being Éponine, even learning “On My Own” for auditions. I saw a touring version of it, about 10 years ago at the Q.E., and was blown away by the spectacle.

Then, in 1996, while watching the Tonys, I saw the original Broadway cast of Rent singing “Seasons of Love” and “La Vie Bohème,” and I was instantly smitten. I’ve now seen Rent four times, including once at the Nederlander Theatre in New York, where it ran for 12 years.

The Nederlander Theatre in New York City

The Nederlander Theatre in NYC.

So, I’m pretty familiar with both of those shows. So, seeing them done in a smaller theatre, on a smaller scale, was a very interesting experience.

And I felt like they were missing something. Don’t get me wrong—both productions were excellent—big hearted, beautifully sung, and with strong production values. But because of money and size of venue, some of the big special effects were cut.

It makes a huge visual impact to see the barricade in Les Mis slowly rotating into view, strewn with dead bodies. The Arts Club production did have a barricade, and it did move, but with more of a pulling-out-a-drawer motion. The impression it made was not as strong. Similarly, Javert’s suicide was not as impactful (sorry about that choice of words).

I had a similar experience seeing Rent. I missed Mimi howling “Out Tonight” as she straddles both staircase railings and slides down, and Joanne’s first arrival on a motorcycle.

Maybe it’s just my sentimentality speaking, but maybe some things are better, bigger.

Now, anyone know of a production of Miss Saigon happening? I got a hankering to see a helicopter land on stage…

Rebecca Coleman is a freelance theatre publicist here in Vancouver. Her roster includes Touchstone Theatre, Ruby Slippers, Radix, Leaky Heaven Circus, Presentation House, Capilano University’s Theatre Department, and Itsazoo. In addition, she does social media training, and has published an e-book on the topic titled Getting Started with Social Networking for Artists and Arts Organizations. Her blog is The Art of the Business.

Rebecca Coleman

Rebecca Coleman

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Saying goodbye to summer

Over the last month, there’s been so much theatre to see and so little time.  And now it all seems to be ending.  The cheeky SHINE: A Burlesque Musical finished its two-week run at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island last weekend and we also bade adieu to the toe-tapping Thoroughly Modern Millie and Annie at Theatre Under the Stars.

At the Arts Club, the Altar Boyz are spritzing their hair with product for the last time and at Pacific Theatre, the good folks from Not Another Musical Co-op are singing the last notes of Songs For A New World this weekend.     Across the water, at the Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver, comes the final curtain call for the newest object of my affection, Fighting Chance’s Rent.

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent; Clockwise from top left, Craig Decarlo, Christine Quintana, Jacqueline Breakwell, Anton Lipovetsky, Nick Fontaine and Cesar Erba.

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent; Clockwise from top left, Craig Decarlo, Christine Quintana, Jacqueline Breakwell, Anton Lipovetsky, Nick Fontaine and Cesar Erba.

I have a rather shameful admission to make . . .  I’ve never been a giant Rent fan.  Nor a Rent fan of any other size, for that matter.  It stems from a certain stubbornness that I possess when it comes to being told what to do or what to like.  In fact, I have an aversion to jumping on to bandwagons of all kinds.  It’s that contrary quality that made me disregard the film version and pooh-pooh the various Rent soundtracks.

But now, I’ve drunk the Kool-aid and have been totally taken in by Rent.  I’ve seen it three times and would have seen it again, if it hadn’t kept selling out.

Which brings us back to the end of the summer season and the sudden onset of my musical-theatre withdrawal blues.  My current state of despair is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that the fall musical season will soon be upon us.  Though, truth be told, I’m not overly enthused by this.  I’ve seen all of these latest summer shows twice and sometimes more and they’ve become familiar, like friends.  And it’s so hard to say goodbye.

Rent; Fighting Chance (Review)

The Rent phenomenon may be thirteen years old, but it shows no signs of slowing down.  Fighting Chance Productions’ version proudly continued the tradition with Thursday night’s Canadian regional theatre premiere of Rent.  Bohemia is alive and well and has taken up residence in a North Vancouver theatre.

Some theatres seem custom-built for certain shows but many others have limitations which theatre companies must work around.  I’d heard some initial concerns about the choice of Presentation House Theatre as the venue for Rent.  And to be honest, I wasn’t sure the smallish space would be a good match for the rock opera.

The closeness of the stage did make for a fundamentally different experience, but overall it was a success.  It’s readily clear, from the earnest enthusiasm permanently etched into their faces, that most of the cast members are die-hard Rent fans.  That kind of passion translates into a high-energy and vibrant production.

Trying to pick the high point of the show is near-impossible, as there are so many from which to choose.  Jonathan Larson’s music and lyrics are just as poignant as they were when they debuted off-Broadway in 1996.  Based on the Puccini opera La Boheme, Rent is the story of a group of New York starving artists who struggle while dealing with the effects of AIDS.

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent; Clockwise from top left, Craig Decarlo, Christine Quintana, Jacqueline Breakwell, Anton Lipovetsky, Nick Fontaine and Cesar Erba.

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent; Clockwise from top left, Craig Decarlo, Christine Quintana, Jacqueline Breakwell, Anton Lipovetsky, Nick Fontaine and Cesar Erba.

Jacqueline Breakwell’s Maureen is fiery hot and oozes sex appeal. My theatre companion was completely and utterly enamoured with her.  Jenn Suratos as Maureen’s current girlfriend is a great foil to Maureen’s ex-boyfriend Mark in “Tango Maureen.”

Anton Lipovetsky is boyish and likeable as Mark and Kholby Wardell drips attitude as Mark’s yuppified ex-roommate Benny.

Craig DeCarlo as Roger has a voice made for rock and easily powers through his multiple numbers. His chemistry with Christine Quintana’s sultry Mimi is somewhat hit or miss, but ultimately pulls together in the end.

Nick Fontaine’s Tom Collins and Cesar Erba’s Angel are an adorable couple, and their voices are perfectly complementary in “I’ll Cover You.”

Rielle Braid, one of the ensemble swings on the second night I saw the show, was a standout as sleazy television producer Alexi Darling.

Most of the cast’s solo vocals are strong but the show is truly at its best in the full company numbers “La Vie Boheme” and “Seasons of Love.”

There were some issues with the sound.  Some actors’ mikes were far too loud and others not loud enough. Several bits of Erba’s dialogue were lost at key moments.

One of Rent’s stronger points is that its gay characters aren’t tokens to the centre stage heterosexual romance between Mimi and Roger.  Joanne and Maureen’s onstage pairing is every bit as volatile and crazy as Maureen’s dream-inspired performance art.  Collins and Angel’s loving relationship is also given equal billing and held up as the ideal to which the others aspire.

Rent’s positive tone, amidst darker themes of poverty and the AIDS epidemic, chooses to emphasise love and living live to the fullest. It’s that message which continues to strike such a personal chord with actors and audiences alike.

Seating is general admission, so make sure you arrive early to stake out a good seat.  Both performances I attended were sold out and by opening night Fighting Chance had already added an extra week to the tail end of their run.  It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to say that Rent will be a smash hit here in Vancouver.

Ryan Mooney and Fighting Chance Productions are persistently making a name for themselves as real contenders in local theatre and Rent will only further that cause.

Fighting Chance Productions’ Rent plays through August 23rd at Presentation House Theatre.  Tickets are available online.

Weekend To-See List (Aug 7-9 2009)

Yesterday was the 104th and final performance of Les Misérables at the Stanley Industrial Theatre (read about it at the Arts Club Blog).  Breaking the 100 performance mark is a huge deal for a local show and the Arts Club is definitely celebrating.

But, the summer Vancouver musical theatre is far from over, and here are my top two picks for this weekend.

1. RentThe Fighting Chance production opened last night and has already announced a week long extension.  My review of the show isn’t up yet, but clearly I liked it since I’ve put it at the top of my weekend to-see list. Playing at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver, Rent tickets are available online.

umbrellas-of-cherbourg

2. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is playing on the big screen this weekend.  The 1963 classic French sung-through movie starring Catherine Deneuve is a cinematic spectacle and a must-see for musical aficionados. Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street Aug 7-9; 6:30 Fri; 8:30 Sat, Sun.

Rent: Opening Week Buzz

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent

This week is the opening of Fighting Chance’s production of Rent and the local buzz has been deafening.  That’s due in part to the overwhelming popularity of Jonathan Larson’s rock musical and also in part to the marketing savvy of director Ryan Mooney.

Mooney has really embraced social media as it applies to local theatre and potential audiences.  At my last count, Mooney and Fighting Chance have used Facebook groups, a Rent In Vancouver blog, a dedicated Rent twitter-feed (as well as many more twittering cast members and production staff),  and a YouTube video channel.  The Rent cast has also been seen making numerous appearances around town including at the Rosedale on Robson, the Oasis Lounge on Davie, Gayday at Playland, and today at the Vancouver Pride parade.

Most of what theatre people and publicists are currently doing with social media is still untested waters and much of it is a learning process of what works and what doesn’t.

I’d like to take a moment to focus on the Rent In Vancouver blog, which has done a lot of things right.  First off, it wasn’t an afterthought, or a mere going through the motions.  The blog was created in April before the show had even been cast.  Since then there have been regular entries about the audition process and personal posts from much of the cast and production team.

Early bird ticket buyers were entered into a draw to see a Rent rehearsal, and blog commenters were entered for a chance to win tickets to opening night.  Fighting Chance has also announced that a limited amount of day-of cheaper tickets will be available by lottery (click here for details).

These types of publicity strategies may very well be the future of theatre in Vancouver, and I’m sure that other local PR types are paying close attention to Fighting Chance (and if they’re not they should be.)

The Canadian regional theatre premiere of Rent starts previews August 4th.  Opening night is August 6th and it plays through the 23rd, at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver, BC.