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Bohemian Rhapsody: "Rent," at the Harrison Hilltop Theatre through May 1 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Thom White   
Monday, 12 April 2010 06:01

Tristan Tapscott and Steve Lasiter in RentIn the program's director's notes, Matthew Helton reveals that he stepped into the role of director for the Harrison Hilltop Theatre's production of Rent hours before the first rehearsal, not giving him enough time to do much more than reproduce the Broadway staging of the show. The replication is arguably forgivable, given his time constraints, but also unfortunate, as little of the performance possesses the mark of being the local theatre's own take on composer Jonathan Larson's work. That being said, however, the production lives up to and even exceeds expectations, due to the singing ability of its cast, and the high energy of its band.

Rent follows a year in the bohemian lives of a group of artists and musicians living in the New York's Lower East Side. From one New Year's Eve to the next, several struggle with drugs, homelessness, and AIDS while they all try to hold on to a sense of family, and during Friday's performance, I could sense the cast's absolute excitement at being a part of such an iconic piece of musical theatre.

Rodney Swain and Joseph Baez in RentAmong many outstanding performers, Jennifer Stone is one of the funniest of the several Maureens I've seen, with her unselfconscious, no-holds-barred, bare-all approach creating the first one to ever get me to willingly "moo." Tracy Pelzer-Timm's voice fills the room with impressively pleasing sound during her brief solo performance, and left me wanting more. And Joseph Baez - who, for me, stole the show in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Holly Jolly Christmas - excels as Angel, particularly outside of the character's scripted lyrics. (I especially enjoyed his haggling over the price of a coat.)

The character of Angel, however, is somewhat problematic. As written, the role is little more than a fun and likable drag queen. It's not until after Angel's death, though, that it's revealed how much the character meant to the others in the show - that Angel was the glue holding the group together - and because of this, I'd never previously cried over Angel's death. (Significance is less significant when conveyed in hindsight.) That changed when Rodney Swain, as Tom Collins, performed the reprise of "I'll Cover You." With tears streaming down his face, Swain's Collins lamented the loss of his love, and the moment was powerful enough that, while not directly mourning Angel, I felt Collins' pain, too, and cried. (Rent marks Swain's theatrical debut in the Quad Cities - though you've perhaps seen him performing as a Bootlegger at Circa '21 - and his performance left me excited to see what's next for him theatrically.)

It's Steve Lasiter and Daryn Harrell, however, who most impressed me. Paired as Roger and Mimi, they possess some of the strongest singing voices of the cast, making their duets all the more emotional and enjoyable. Lasiter's skills as an actor are also laudable, highlighted in his two solo songs, "One Song Glory" and "Your Eyes," both of which gave me goosebumps.

Steve Lasiter and Daryn Harrell in RentWhile wildly enjoyable, Harrison Hilltop's Rent is not without its flaws. James Bleecker, who was remarkable as Prior in the Green Room Theatre's Angels in America and Benjamin in Harrison Hilltop's The Graduate, is out-of-place here; his off-key and off-rhythm singing were significant distractions. A shaky, sometimes oddly employed spotlight also pulled focus from what it was meant to highlight. And while much of Danny Boman's choreography was impressive, some of it seemed limiting to the actors (most significantly in "Out Tonight"), as if they either weren't given enough to do, or wanted to give more, physically, but were held back by their directed movements. There were also a few awkward compositions; I sat in the second row, in the second seat from center, and still couldn't see half of Maureen's "Over the Moon" solo. (Which is regrettable, as what I did see was fantastic.)

Weaknesses and issues of reproducing the Broadway staging aside, Rent should be considered a triumph for the Harrison Hilltop Theatre, counted among its best productions, if not the best. It'll be a shame if every seat isn't filled for the show's entire run.

For tickets and information, call (563) 449-6371 or visit

Thom White covers entertainment news for WQAD Quad Cities News 8.

Comments (6)Add Comment
Do not miss this production!
written by David Turley, April 12, 2010
I had the privilege of seeing this remarkable show Friday night as well. I was very apprehensive, at first, about seeing a local production of RENT. I have seen the Broadway production six times. From the first chords played by the band to the final curtain call, I was absolutely astounded by this production. It is probably one of the best shows I have seen performed in this area in many years. Its flaws are so incredibly minor that by shows end, the cast and musicians have made you forget them. I almost never see a show twice and I am already planning on seeing this another time. For those of you reading this. Yes, it IS that good!
come on out!
written by Harrison Hilltop Theatre, April 12, 2010
we encourage EVERYONE to come see this production! it's an important time for our company and the theatre scene in the quad cities! come support a piece of history!

order your tickets NOW (they are going fast!)

much love,
tristan and chris
You won't be disappointed!
written by Cayleah, April 13, 2010
I had the pleasure of attending the performance on Saturday, and I walked out very pleased. From the welcoming greeting to the last bow, I could feel the close-knit feeling of a true acting community. During the show, the performances were moving, entertaining, and right on key. Although I have seen RENT in other community theaters, I believe Hilltop did a fantastic job putting it above the rest. I encourage everyone to buy tickets and see the show, you will not be disappointed!
written by C Walljasper, April 14, 2010
I'd like to clarify a point from the last comment. The Harrison Hilltop Theatre is not a community theatre. We are a fully professional theatre. We pay all of our actors and staff. We've produced 24 productions in under two years, and strive to produce productions of a caliber that is hard to rival in the area. We may employ area actors, but we also employ regional professional actors, which creates a unique learning experience for all.

Thanks for your kind words. I hope you all come see the show! Order tickets on
written by Patty Baugh-Riechers, April 27, 2010
My husband and I went to see "Rent" last Friday and are going again this Thursday. The show is extremely well done. I just cannot say enough good things about it. DO NOT miss it. One of the best shows I have ever seen in this area. The review is too harsh. I guarantee you will love it. Bring tissues...I was so glad I did.
Spot On, Patty!
written by Ben Reilly, April 28, 2010
You are so right, Patty! "...counted among its best productions, if not the best" is WAY too harsh!

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