SELINSGROVE - For the struggling artists and musicians in "Rent," their anthem is "No Day But Today" ... because for most of them, that's all they've got.
Fortunately, area theatergoers have two weekends left to experience the Courtyard Theater's production of "Rent." The rock musical has 7 p.m. performances Friday, Saturday and March 21 and 22, with 3 p.m. matinees on March 16 and 23 at the Courtyard Theater, located at the J.C. Penney entrance of the Susquehanna Valley Mall, 1 Susquehanna Valley Mall Drive.
An updated rock opera of the classic tragedy La Boheme, "Rent" is set in New York City's Lower East Side in the late 1980s. The powerful musical centers on the lives of eight friends, who while experiencing sexual freedom and love, also face drug addiction and the growing affliction of HIV/AIDS.
Shown is the cast of “Rent,” which will be performed this weekend and next at the Courtyard Theater, located in the Susquehanna Valley Mall, 1 Susquehanna Valley Mall Drive, Selinsgrove.
With words and music by Jonathan Larson, "Rent" debuted off-Broadway in 1996 with Larson suddenly dying just before the musical opened. An immediate smash and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, "Rent" moved to Broadway where it won four Tony Awards, including "Best Musical."
Covering one year beginning on Christmas Eve in 1986, "Rent" details with its raw score, all the grittiness and hardships of the impoverished living - and dying - in New York.
There are likely some songs which could have been deleted (and probably would have been if Larson had lived to see "Rent" on stage). Songs including "Tango Maureen," "Halloween," and "Goodbye Love" don't really move the storyline forward, but only add to the show's length.
Directed by Bob Taylor, The Courtyard's production displays flashes of the raw rock intensity while affirming the show's message to "make the most of now."
Using a framework of girders, scaffolding, ladder and collapsible platform, Taylor, who also makes a few brief cameo appearances, smoothly moves the cast of 20 as they belt out the score, showing the fragility of life.
Nick Buckman, Courtyard's technical director, switches hats as the show's musical director and also joins the ensemble in singing the dynamic rock score.
Although the music tends to drown out the vocals early on in the two-act musical, the "recorded" score is uniformly sung with high energy and volume. "Seasons of Love," the show's best-known song, gives the company the spotlight to kick off the second act with a flourish.
The show boasts strong-voiced principals, whose characters are believable as they sing the heartfelt lyrics. A handful of performers stand out among the talented cast:
Seth Confer plays Mark, the aspiring filmmaker and narrator of sorts.
His roommate is Roger, the ex-junkie living with AIDS and the central romantic figure. Matthew Fulkerson, who gave an outstanding performance as Sweeney Todd in the Courtyard's premier production, gets sustained applause with his solos ("One Song Glory" and the finale, "Your Eyes").
Brandy Vasey has the strongest, clearest vocals, as Mimi, the sickly stripper, shining brightest in her duets with Roger ("Light My Candle," "I Should Tell You" and "Without You").
Another duet which almost stops the show is "Take Me or Leave Me" between fickle Maureen (Val Harper) and her partner Joanne (Dee Kramer).
Isaac J. Conner is effective as Benny, the landlord who starts to evict his friends.
Trent Reynolds was both funny and moving as the drag queen Angel. "I'll Cover You," the duet between Angel and her love Collins, reprised at the funeral scene in Act II, deservedly got the loudest applause with Steve Aguire's voice filled with pathos and poignancy.
Although there are different storylines overlapping, perhaps causing some confusion, the message of "Rent" remains clear - to cherish what one has as fully and as long possible.
With high energy and electricity, The Courtyard Theater's "Rent" is a powerfully moving musical.
Because of the theme involving HIV/AIDS, "Rent" is rarely performed in its original format in high schools, even in a watered-down version. Because of the language and brief partial nudity, "Rent" is for "mature audiences." Parents are advised to keep their youngsters at home.
The Courtyard Theater is donating a portion of each admission to AIDS Resource, headquartered in Williamsport and serving six counties - another reason to experience "Rent" and its enduring emotional connection.
For more information, call 570-966-0080 or visit www.thecourtyardtheater.com.