‘RENT’ takes Ring Theater by storm

“RENT,” the record-breaking rock opera, was the epic finale to the University of Miami’s Department of Theatre Arts’ high-energy season.
The Tony Award-winning musical, which was written by Jonathan Larson and based off of Giacomo Puccini’s legendary opera, “La Bohéme,” first premiered in 1996. It is about a group of young struggling artists during the 1980s on the Lower East Side of New York City. With its powerful contemporary rock score, the musical addresses issues such as poverty, drug-abuse, bisexuality and AIDS. Students and faculty have been developing, designing and rehearsing to adapt “RENT” to the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre’s unique circular stage.
“With the Broadway production, there was often too much activity on stage to follow the story,” said Christine Kellogg, co-director and choreographer.
In rewriting much of the choreography, her and co-director, Bruce Miller, chose to focus on the plot.
“Doing it in the round theater has actually helped to tell the story… perhaps better,” Kellogg said.
These fresh transformations suited the long standing Broadway hit’s live-for-the-moment “No Day But Today” anthem.
“It’s about living for the here and now,” said Matt Mickenberg, a recent graduate of the musical theatre program who played Mark Cohen, the story’s narrator. “Forget about regretting things and just do it.”
This attitude, combined with the emphatic energy of the cast, made this unique UM performance one of most fun productions he has been a part of, according to Mickenberg.
Considering the style of music and the themes explored, the theatre department chose “RENT” to appeal to a broader college-aged audience.
“This is much more topical for this generation,” Kellogg said. “Many of our actors already knew the words and the score.”
The Broadway production ran for 12 years, making it the eighth-longest running show in history.
Kellogg, a former choreographer and professor from the University of California at Los Angeles who came to UM last year, was excited about the performance at UM.
“There are some extremely talented students here, and the tech team’s pretty spectacular,” she said. “There was a good vibe with everyone.”
Mickenberg put it more simply: “It just rocked.”
David Sargent may be contacted at dsargent@themiamihurricane.com.