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‘Rent’ brings East Village to campus

By Mackenzie Cutruzzula
Arts & Entertainment Assistant

TCNJ Musical Theatre filled the Don Evan’s Black Box Theatre with bright lights, the energy of the East Village in the 1990s and a drag queen during their five-day run of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer-prize winning musical “Rent.”

A small cast of 17 delivered big with such an emotional show. Staying true to the Broadway production, TMT used the famous open-concept stage with movable parts to set the scene. Using minimal props to their advantage, the cast relied on strong narration to keep the show moving and transitioning.

“Rent” follows a diverse group of young people living in New York’s East Village at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Struggling filmmaker Mark Cohen, played by junior Steve Munoz, narrated the show as he filmed the trials and tribulations of his friends. Munoz did an excellent job of keeping the show’s pace, with his monologues often functioning as scene transitions to keep the audience informed while the set was shifting.

“Being really into English made me like having a narrator who is also a part of the show,” said Munoz, a junior English and secondary education double major. “What (Mark) sees, the audience sees, and that’s really different.”

Mark films his friends as they prepare to protest the plans of their former friend and current landlord Benny, played by senior Adam Ziering, to tear down their lot in hopes of starting a ‘Cyberstudio.’ Maureen Johnson leads the protest with her performance of “Over the Moon,” an over-the-top monologue originally performed by Idina 

Menzel — a role fulfilled by sophomore Melissa Albert. Outfitted in embroidered jeans and pigtails true to the 90s, Albert engaged the crowd and was not afraid to hold back. During “La Vie Bohème A,” Albert again left nothing to the imagination and bared her bottom for added dramatic and comedic effect. Under the direction of sophomore and Signal A&E Editor Jonathan Edmondson, the show was a grand spectacle of high energy, emotion and personality.

‘Rent’ features a diverse and talented cast of only 17. (Samantha Selikoff / Staff Photographer)
‘Rent’ features a diverse and talented cast of only 17. (Samantha Selikoff / Staff Photographer)

Junior Nicolette Naticchione portrayed Maureen’s stuffy love interest, Joanne Jefferson, a lawyer and the only non-artist of the friend group. Naticchione’s talent shined in “Take Me or Leave Me,” a duo with Albert where the characters sing about their differences within their struggling relationship. 

The most compelling performance throughout the show, however, was by junior Mike Alexander playing the role of Angel Dumott Schunard, a drag queen and street drummer who has AIDS. Wearing the signature red dress and short black wig, Alexander won the heart of the crowd as he portrayed Angel’s story of life, love and death. TMT newcomer and sophomore Beau Aranosian played Angel’s love interest, Tom Collins.  The duo shared intimate moments amongst a sold-out crowd, leaving the audience with chills and tears by the end of the night.

Mark lives with Roger Davis, a down-on-his-luck musician who is HIV positive and dealing with the suicide of his former girlfriend. Roger, played by junior Ken Abes, is looking to write one last great song before he dies. Rather than letting inspiration flow in from his love interest Mimi Márquez, a club dancer and drug addict played by junior Melanie Munoz, he shuts her out. Eventually, Mimi and Roger are able to admit to each other that they are both HIV positive during the heart-wrenching ballad “I Should Tell You.”

Their relationship further develops when later in the show, the couple admits that they cannot live without one another in “Without You.” Accompanied by a lyrical dance choreographed by sophomore Danny Leonhardt and featuring ensemble members junior biology major Fred Stange and senior Kelsey Snedeker, the number garnered heartfelt reactions from the audience.

Munoz delivers a powerful and dynamic performance as Mimi. (Samantha Selikoff / Staff Photographer)
Munoz delivers a powerful and dynamic performance as Mimi. (Samantha Selikoff / Staff Photographer)

“I was pretty new to dance,” said Stange. “I only dance in musicals, but the lyrical style was completely new for me. I liked that I got to be in an important number.”

As the cast deals with the death of Angel, more personal problems and, of course, paying the rent, Mark comes to the conclusion that you only get one life and you can’t sell out. The cast performs two beautiful renditions of the world famous “Seasons of Love” in Act II, which shows off the full range of the company and gave the audience a taste of what they would see in the touching finale scene. With a personal touch, the musical ends with Mark presenting his documentary that he has been filming throughout the show. As the cast sings, a real video is projected behind them featuring footage of the cast’s rehearsals giving the audience something to smile about as the show concluded.

“Every show is an opportunity to improve and learn,” Munoz said. “We always want to improve everything and never take a step back.”

The production was so popular that a sixth showtime was added to the lineup. The cast looked to get bigger, get better and get louder with each performance, and their rendition did Larson’s original justice.


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