the sound of one hand clapping: rent the musical

the RCBC theater is in my neighborhood, so not oddly enough, i went out of the house last night to see "rent" the musical in a t-shirt, pants, and a pair of slippers. i grabbed my fleece jacket on the way out, knowing how deathly cold it could get in that building. good decision on the jacket. bad decision on the slippers. it seemed that the musical's surprisingly young patrons had all gone out for gimik night, i would not have been surprised if bottles of champagne were in the lobby. i wasn't really intimidated. i just felt i hadn't been told about the dress code. anyway, i had occasion to speak to someone and she asked me if i had seen the musical before, and i replied by asking: "do you mean the movie?" these days, people associate rent with the film which starred, among others, rosario dawson. "no, i hadn't seen that," i replied, "but i watched the play when bobby garcia staged it at the GSIS eight years ago." i flipped my hair. people who say they're cultured because they watch big screen adaptations of musicals are clearly making false claims. i can't even make that claim myself without sounding like a misguided social climber.

so because i had seen "rent" before, i couldn't help but compare this recent staging to the previous incarnation, and i'm sorry to say that i was underwhelmed. if you have bituin escalante, rachel alejandro, calvin millado, JM rodriguez, and michael de mesa in a cast where you can't even say: featuring star A, et cetera, maybe you are better off doing something else where you can't be compared. i know how a lot of people have an unkind opinion of bobby garcia, but i've seen "proof", "the rocky horror show", and "avenue Q", and i congratulate his theatric vision as well as his efforts at mounting local productions of foreign hit musicals. i saw "rent" when i was already gainfully-employed, so it ushered my interest in (more expensive) musical theater. previous to that, i was only exposed to "rama at sita", "1896", and other student productions at the university. i consider "rent" as having opened my eyes to other ways of appreciating local talent. in fact, i liked "rent" so much, i've memorized many of the songs in the musical, and i could have sang along with the cast if it was allowed (or if anyone could actually tolerate my singing).

what didn't quite work for me was the obvious underacting employed in many of the solos (isn't the stage all about big movements? there's no zoom in's or cut to's or pans or montages in theater, so subtlety doesn't make for fantastic theater). gian magdangal as roger was holding back a lot, it was almost as if he was shy. in his first scene with mimi, it looked like he was whispering. marc was also a little too dorky-looking (sounded even dorkier) for me, i was thinking he should have been in "avenue Q" instead. the guy who played "angel" seemed to have the panache for the role, but failed me in the singing department. in fact, much of the singing was sub-par. a lot of the dialogue in "rent" is conversation set to music, but i felt that the songs were merely recited rather than sang out loud. it lacked a lot of heart. roger was flat on the line "i'm writing one great song..." and there was absolutely no glory to his rendition of "one song glory" -- which surprises me. i thought he had a lot of theater background. the musical's biggest failure, i think, is its casting for mimi. she murdered "going out tonight" and had this silly joker grin on her face in the flirtation song "light my candle". her voice was just not good enough, and she didn't move really well. mimi is a dancer at the cat scratch club, but the actor playing her had not only had a voice similar to fingernails scraping against a blackboard, bu appeared like a reject of SYTYCD, whose audition would only be shown to demonstrate that not everyone who dances is a dancer.

the less-than-stellar output of the nearly-stellar cast was mildly redeemed by maureen. her "over the moon" was good, and the video projection that accompanied it validated the fact that it was a more than a protest but a production. the chorus members also blended with the industrial set, they may as well have been frames. i was just not impressed with neither their singing nor their ability to take on multiple characters. two of them just looked too goofy, it was rather distracting. who surprised me the most, actually, was OJ mariano. i felt that he was also holding back a bit, or may have been sick since his voice had too much rasp in it, but i was delighted to discover that he can act, and that he can convey emotions with his singing. a lot of the other performers were singing and acting, but not at the same time. i'd even say he was better than michael de mesa's interpretation of collins. their cover of "i'll cover you" was decent enough.

finally, i am not familiar with the body of work of robbie guevara, but i just really found some of his decisions to be bordering on amateur. the interpretation of "contact" (silhouettes) reminded me of a high school approach to sex: it was rather sophomoric. bobby garcia's more risqué approach was affront, but was sexy and titillating. this one was jarring and awkward (roger + mimi on one table, maureen + joane on another) -- perhaps much like what real sex is. the complicated stage was fine, but the movement could have been improved. despite having several levels, i think sometimes that there wasn't enough stage, or that there was too much of it, the actor just wasn't there. and the sound was just terrible i couldn't hear the singing. but kudos to the live band.

all in all, i felt that the production was a big let-down, and not just because i have the privilege of comparison. but then again, i'm happy to have seen the first one when it happened -- at least, my peg isn't a movie. i saw "rent" with my AMCI batibot friends, and my seatmate, nelle, asked why i didn't clap after a song performance. i don't think it's inappropriate in a modern musical, really (this isn't opera, after all), but applause is something you do to express appreciation; it doesn't necessarily accompany disappointment.
thanks for sharing
Nice review Alman. I knew it was going to be a train-wreck so I didn't even bother to watch. To think that some people first associate Rent with the R. Dawson movie pains me. Ugh.

Just a minor point though, Rent in the Philippines first came out a year before the GSIS production. It was also directed by Bobby Garcia, but it was held in Music Museum. It was almost the same great cast (Ricci Chan was replaced by Jake Macapagal), but this time it was actually set in some place gritty. The cast for this production also had Monique Wilson for Maureen.

Re: thanks for sharing
yeah, i was told that the GSIS production was already the second "edition" of the musical, and i was told that ricci chan's angel was amazing, he basically stole the show. although, since most of the cast as well as the director were the same, i consider it the same production (by atlantis, was it?), albeit at a different venue. now what i'm not very sure of is whether that GSIS show was staged in 2001 (while i was still a student) or 2003 (when i was already a lawyer). i might be confusing "rent" with "proof" which i also watched at GSIS. but thanks for the factoid. i understand bobby garcia's "rent" and his cast didn't always get rave reviews (particularly when they brought it to singapore), and if by comparison this isn't better, you can imagine that the one they're doing now is a massive train wreck. and i was thinking if monique wilson was on the cast. i wasn't so sure. but thanks for informing me. interested in seeing "avenue Q" again?