CSULB Theatre Arts Presents RENT

BY: JACQUELINE NARANJO

PHOTOS BY: KEITH I. POLAKOFF

A tale of young people fighting against poverty and illness. Living through the mantra “No day but today.” CSULB's University Players brings to life the grueling bohemian world of New York City in the late 1980s with the Tony-Award winning musical production of “RENT.”

Based loosely on Puccini’s "La Boheme", Rent follows a year in the life of a group of poor, artistic friends living in Manhattan’s East Village. Through emotional and powerful musical numbers each characters story is explored and woven together.

The production begins with Mark played by Christian B. Schmidt. An aspiring filmmaker struggling to find his place in the world after his lover, Maureen (Kayla Kearney), left him for another women named Joanne (Nicole Royster).

Mark is joined by his roommate Roger played by Joey Ruggiero, an HIV-positive musician whose was left emotionally shut down after the suicide of his girlfriend. In the musical, Roger is befriended by Mimi Marquez (Sarah Kennedy), an exotic dancer who is also struggling with HIV and addiction.

Mimi coincidentally shares a past with Roger and Mark's former roommate Benny (Brandon Pascal). Who coincidentally is the new landlord and ends up demanding last year's rent before shutting down their electrical power.

Completing the group are Angel (Christian Sullivan) a drag queen who also faces HIV and her partner Collins (Paul Tran) a part-time philosophy professor and anarchist.

In a story about poverty, anarchy and love. All these characters are joined together by music. From joyful songs like “La Vie Boheme/Should I tell you” to the melancholy “Seasons of Love,” the music from Rent is emotional and relatable.

The whole cast had spectacular vocal ranges that left the audience in awe. Together the cast was a powerful combination that brought a soulful and emotionally dramatic feel to the stage.

One of the biggest standouts from the production include Christian B. Schmidt whose charisma shined as the filmmaker Mark. His quirky and joyous character helped the production move effortlessly. With his trusty video camera, he was able to narrate and document the hectic lives of his friends.

The production had the neat idea of incorporating his camera footage into a projection on the set. This gave the performances a grittier and personalized feel.

Another memorable performance belonged to Maureen played by Kayla Kearney. The moment she hit the stage, her confidence shined and entertained the entire audience. The most interesting performance of the night belonged to Christian Sullivan. Christian marvelously interpreted a very feminine, sultry and tender Angel.

In a stage full of chaos, the end is filled with moments of tragedy, tranquil and tenderness. It’s about not living in regret and fear. Rent is a story about living in the moment. The characters of the musical live through life fighting for a chance to be happy.

The play is written by Jonathan Larson and directed by Joanne Gordon.

The show will end its run this week on Saturday March 19. Tickets are available still available on the theatre arts website (https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34481)

Jacqueline Naranjo

Entertainment Editor at DIG MAG