One would expect RENT: School Edition to be comprised of a fifteen-minute performance of disembodied scenes with most lyrics bleeped out, culminating in a soggy rendition of the show’s most celebrated tune, “Seasons of Love.” Like other notorious productions attempting to depict teenagers, (see Hair: High School Cut, Grease: For Middle School, and the musical version of Spring Awakening) RENT is an ironically taboo show for youthful performers. Like the aforementioned kid-friendly versions of hit shows, RENT: School Edition (as we must learn to refer to it) is creative in its excising of certain curse words. The F-bomb becomes unexpectedly versatile, being replaced in turn by “CRAP”, “NO”, “STINKING”, “HELL”, “JERK” and even, “SELF RIGHTEOUS!!” Other words appear in various incarnations always maintaining the rhyme scheme of a song, including “gritty” “spitty” and “it.” Memorable examples include “He is so full of…IT!” And, “This is weird. It’s weird. Really weird. fffrEALLY weird.”
The clutching, shivering, fantastic cast of RENT: School Edition.
Photo by Chris Bennion
However, once the average Renthead overcomes their aversions to these hackings of Jonathan Larsen’s brilliant work, they are able to enjoy a quality teen production of a fantastic musical. RENT, which depicts the struggles of a group of friends living in the East Village during the AIDS epidemic in the 90s, is a two-hour exhibition of those prevalent themes: life, death, friendship, and love. Over a decade after its smash hit run on Broadway it is still relevant, heartbreaking, and breathtaking. Jonathan Larsen’s rock opera tunes are more than beautiful, they are rip-your-heart-out, clutching, shivering, fantastic.
And, strangely, The Seattle Children’s Theatre’s summer cast of dedicated, hard-working teens do the piece justice. The cast does its best work when it sings as an ensemble, delicate harmonies interweaving within the fiercely belted melody. Each character, including the eight leads and twenty fabulous ensemble members, stands out, most memorably Zane Cimino as hands down the most adorable cross-dressing, sweet-singing, table-top dancing Angel Dumont Schunard ever to wear zebra-striped tights. Matt Lang looks appropriately Mark-ish in his scruffy plaid blazer, and Kelsey Schergen displays her ability to shake her striptease upside down while singing rather appealingly, a skill always valued in teenage girls. Camden Morris, like all other portrayers of Roger Davis, has a hard time living up to Adam Pascal’s innate sexiness, but he does well at his character’s angsty screams of “MIMIIIIIIIIII!” And Hattie Andres redirects the spotlight in her show-stealing portrayal of the chirping, snarling, sleazy Alexi Darling.
Through male voice breakage, strained high notes, crayola drawn tattoos, (is that male genitalia, or a dinosaur?) and one memorable incident of an actor spitting all over the face of another, the cast of RENT: School Edition perseveres. In ratted hair and ripped fishnets, leaning seductively on planks of wood and draped around poles, the inhabitants of the lower east side disabuse us of the playing dress-up feeling that accompanies other censored productions. Backed by a rocking live band, exchanging AZT pills like tic-tacs, the cast does, in its own way, push boundaries. RENT lives and breathes, and each production brings something new. This one brings RENT to the present day, softening, hardening, bringing on a new season of love.
August 1st, 2009
RENT: School Edition is closed, but check out the rest of SCT's summer season.
Did you see this show? Leave a comment and tell everybody what you thought!