RENT: School Edition by Upper Dublin High School in Maple Glen, PA
April 11, 2017
Review submitted by Zoe Walker of Friends’ Central School
Glitter, graffiti, and angsty guitar solos: Upper Dublin High School’s production of RENT: School Edition transported audience members to the artistic, rough-and-tumble New York City of the 1980’s during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis.
The musical, now an American staple, first graced the Broadway stage in 1996. It follows a group of friends, including a drag queen, a struggling filmmaker, a stripper, and many other interesting personalities, who navigate a very uncertain era in American history. The bonds of love and friendship are strained, however RENT is far from depressing: it is life-affirming.
Among the main characters, Charlie Rudalavage (Angel Schunard) and Shane Gardner (Tom Collins) shined as a dynamic duo of lovers committed to each other through the depths of disease. Angel’s fiery, fierce, and fabulous personality was nicely balanced by the sensitivity and groundedness of his partner, Collins. Sophie Gustafson (Mimi Marquez) offered strong vocals and an emotionally complex rendition of her character.
The supporting cast lacked no talent, however. Sam Spirt crafted an intellectually mature yet emotionally naïve Joanne Jefferson, the Ivy-league educated lesbian who can’t help but indulge her performance artist girlfriend, Maureen. Featured roles such as Mrs. Cohen (played by Syd Quan) and Alexi Darling (Anastasia Weggel) added bright insights into the layers of New York life.
A major highlight of the show was the beautiful and intricate set, constructed by the Upper Dublin Crew, which included multiple stories of scaffolding to resemble apartments. Sound Technician Justin Zitelli succeeded in seamlessly blending thirty-four individual microphones to produce a unified choral sound. Finally, hair and makeup by Amelia Camilo were streamlined and professional.
In conclusion, Upper Dublin’s performance of RENT: School Edition was impressive and inspiring. The cast showed stamina and maturity through the two and a half hour production and difficult subject matter. Upper Dublin’s high-schoolers encouraged us to live for today, and brought to life a musical about people “living, with not dying from, disease.”
Review submitted by Trinity Pike of Upper Merion Area High School
Give in to love or live in fear? In their production of Rent: School Edition, Upper Dublin High School unapologetically urged audiences to measure their lives in love.
In RENT, seven individuals endure the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Each grapple with human questions and heartbreaking answers, giving the show a poignant yet powerful resonance. Based on the Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème, the story became iconic after its popular premiere and Broadway run. Having received a Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award, and film adaptation, the musical remains a challenge for performers due to both its fame and its complexity.
Upper Dublin approached these demands with a unique sense of creativity and dedication. The UD Crew constructed a two-story set of interlocking metal bars, lined the audience space with dynamic graffiti, and projected live footage during the show. Accompanying the efforts of the crew was a strong cast. A versatile ensemble provided the backbone of the performance with vocal prowess and emotive presence.
In particular, Shane Gardner excelled in his portrayal of anarchist professor Tom Collins. Gardner gifted his soft, rich voice and gorgeous vibrato to numbers such as “I’ll Cover You,” complementing the spirited vocals of his partner, Charlie Rudalavage (Angel Schunard). As a couple, both maintained energy and awareness throughout the show with an organic intimacy.
Sophie Gustafson portrayed stripper Mimi Marquez with just as much attention to detail. In “Out Tonight,” Gustafson sensuously danced across the stage while maintaining impressive, smoky vocals. Her chemistry with rocker Charlie Griffin (Roger Davis) was a compelling aspect of the show, revealing the vulnerability of both in the face of disease.
Another dynamic duo was Sam Spirt (Joanne Jefferson) and Morgan MacNaughton (Maureen Johnson), a lesbian couple with a volatile dynamic. Their stable vocals and excellent characterization added to the intensity of “Take Me or Leave Me,” a duet exploring romantic frustrations.
The technical aspects of the production were masterfully executed. Loquacious Forbidden Noodling, the orchestra, embodied musical precision, staying in sync with actors they could not see from within the stage. Lighting by Chris Long, Ben Fischer, and Mack Confer added a layer of nuance to the story with rotating triangles and spirals for celebrations, a bold red for conflicts, and an aesthetic orange-blue combination for large ensemble numbers.
Overall, cast energy and crew innovation rendered Upper Dublin’s RENT : School Edition an impactful production. Together, they reminded audiences to forget regret, for there is no day but today.