By Kristen Popham
“The heart may freeze or it can burn, the pain will ease if I can learn, there is no future there is no past, I live this moment as my last,” sings the youthful, adventurous Mimi, worn by the corruption of NYC. In the 1990s, AIDS aggressively struck the United States. No one knew where it came from or how to deal with it. People were dying. Tears were shedding. Poverty was striking. The future was a scary place because some people didn’t have one. McLean High School captured the raw emotion of this time period in their riveting production of Rent.
Rent music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, first premiered in an off-Broadway production in 1996. After being awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the show took off. It’s 12-year Broadway run left Rent with several Tony Awards including Best Musical. The story centers on a group of young artists and musicians enduring their lives under the dark cloud of HIV/AIDS. They experience unification during loss and discovery, all captured by documentarian, Mark Cohen.
The production was poignant and inspirational. The bittersweet story of the destruction of a community due to one ferocious virus was captured impeccably by McLean High School’s cast. All actors fully encompassed every relationship, deprivation, and miracle being cast before their troubled eyes. Whether it be the trembling and ghastly stares of AIDS victims, or the rare smile of Mark when he sees his friends at their best, the actors strapped their emotion across their chest like Roger’s beloved guitar.
Mark Cohen, portrayed by Alex Stone, ultimately depicted the astonished witness of the tribulation among him. With alluring vocals and prominent energy, Stone evoked sentiment and realism imperative to the success of the show. His relationship with Damian Leverett’s Roger Davis was especially notable because of their brotherly chemistry as roommates and best friends.
Mimi, successfully depicted by Camila Alfonzo-Meza, was naïve and nostalgic. Her voice was dulcet and whether she was seducing or suffering, Alfonzo-Meza was engaged in her feelings whole-heartedly. All characters, including the powerful ensemble, united for the tender song, “Seasons of Love,” as Carla Calderone sang a remarkable solo that blew the audience into well-deserved applause. There was a certain solidarity among the cast that gave the song an inspirational effect.
The technical aspects were realistic. The set depicted an artsy New York City apartment typical of the era. Brick walls stretched from the stage with sporadic graffiti that expressed their location on the Lower East side where “I’m a New Yorker! Fear is my life!” The lights were sensational and helped transform McLean High School’s stage into an artsy time period. The makeup, hair, and costumes reflected the ’90s and certain details like the wisp of Angel’s hair or the dark bags underneath the eyes of the sick commendably added to the impression of the show.
McLean High School’s production of Rent was a reminder that people around us are constantly suffering. But if we worry about the future, then we’ll take for granted the beauty of what we have here and now. “I can’t control my destiny. I trust my soul, my only goal is just to be.”
Kristen Popham is a student at Chantilly High School and a member of Cappies, the Critics and Awards Program for High School Theatre and Journalism.