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McLean High School Rent

By • Apr 12th, 2013 • Category: Cappies, Virginia

The camera pans to an industrial lot on Avenue B, Christmas Eve. It glances upon the surface of the lives of seven struggling young artists in New York City that become a family when dealing with the difficulty of having HIV/AIDS and the poverty that strikes them on their journey through love and expressing themselves.

Rent was based on the opera La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini, and became a rock musical with music by award-winning composer Jonathan Larson, based on an idea by playwright Billy Aroson. Larson died before seeing the success of Rent, but won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical.

McLean High School’s production of Rent was complex and busy, but still carried the somber undertone of the serious nature of those affected with HIV/AIDS. The story follows roommates Mark Cohen (Alex Stone) and Roger Davis (Damian Leverett). Mark is dealing with a break up with girlfriend Maureen Johnson (Madelyn Paquette), who has left him for a lesbian relationship with Joanne Jefferson (Nancy Pruett), and Roger has just found out he is HIV-positive. Roger begins a relationship with a stranger named Mimi Marquez (Camila Alfonzo-Meza) who is also HIV-positive. Mark and Roger are also friends with their former roommate Tom Collins (John Williams) and his lover and drag queen Angel DuMott Schunard (Max Johnson) who also has AIDS. Mark and Roger’s former roommate Benny Coffin III (Jack Posey) is the landlord who is trying to evict Mark and Roger out of the apartment.

Rent was packed with performances, with songs including many strong duets including “Light My Candle” with Leverett and Alfonzo-Meza, and “Tango Maureen” featuring Stone and Pruett. Each song became a complicated display with various dance performances with intricate choreography. The dancing at times detracted from the vocal performance, but overall highlighted some of the joys of being artists. “La Vie Boheme” was presented with the company cup tapping their way to the beat, which was creative but sometimes distracting. “Seasons of Love” was the culmination of the musical, which had a standout solo performed by Carla Calderon, who brought the house to applause.

Besides the vocal performances, many actors had difficult emotional torches to carry and did so with ease. The chemistry between Roger (Leverett) and Mimi (Alfonzo-Meza) was palpable. Attraction between Johnson and Williams became strongest at the end when Angel passed away and Williams mournfully performed “I’ll Cover You (Reprise).”

Johnson’s performance of Angel was a strong comic relief for the sometimes-depressing plot line. His dedication to character showed, and had the audience in peals of laughter when producing a mountain of tissues out of his bosom or parading around in heels and a dress. Alexi Darling (Sydney Lo), who tries to convince Mark to come work for her at a television show, was another powerful comedic relief.

Technically, the show was virtually seamless. The lighting brought emotional depth to certain scenes such as Angel’s death and Mimi’s dance scene. One of the standout parts of the show included the special-effect snow, where a snow machine created a real snow stage. The set portrayed the living space in which the friends became a family, and worked well with the needs of the performances and dancing.

McLean’s performance of Rent was something unlike anything else seen on a high school stage. The actors and actresses understood the depth of their characters and portrayed a moving story that proves that dealing with hardship together can make relationships become more valuable.

by Sydney Bair of Stone Bridge High School

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