Bonnie & Clyde (2014)

music by Frank Wildhorn
lyrics by Don Black
book by Ivan Menchell
October 2-25, 2014
Washington University South Campus Theatre
Show Webpage
Production Photos

Clyde Barrow – Matt Pentecost
Bonnie Parker – Larissa White
Marvin “Buck” Barrow – Brendan Ochs
Blanche Barrow – Sarah Porter
Ted Hinton – Reynaldo Arceno
Governor Miriam Ferguson – Mara Bollini
Sheriff Schmid – Christopher “Zany” Clark
Guard/Capt. Hamer – Kent Coffel
Preacher – Zachary Allen Farmer
Henry Barrow – Joel Hackbarth
Emma Parker – Alison Helmer
Eleanore – Ann Hier
Judge/Shopkeeper/Bank Teller – Marshall Jennings
Stella – Nellie Mitchell
Cumie Barrow/Trish – Kimi Short
Deputy Bud – Christopher Strawhun

Piano/Conductor – Jeffrey Richard Carter
Guitar – D. Mike Bauer
Violin – Nikki Glenn
Second Keyboard – Sue Goldford
Bass – Andrew Gurney
Percussion – Clancy Newell
Reeds – Robert Vinson

Directors – Scott Miller, Mike Dowdy
Directing Intern – Alex Glow
Music Director – Jeffrey Richard Carter
Stage Manager – Gabe Taylor
Scenic and Lighting Designer – Rob Lippert
Sound Designer – Tim Ceradsky
Costume Designers – Sarah Porter, Marcy Wiegert
Props Master – Kimi Short
Lighting Technician – Gabe Taylor
Box Office Manger – Luke Steingruby
Volunteer Coordinator – Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer – Matt Reedy
Photographer – Jill Ritter Lindberg

“If you live in New York or London, you enjoy lots of opportunities to see new shows. . . In St. Louis, we have those opportunities as well – mostly because of Scott Miller, the artistic director of New Line Theatre. New Line has earned considerable attention over the years, originally for its scaled-down treatment of established musicals and in recent seasons for Miller’s smart presentation of rarely staged shows that are worth another look. Bonnie & Clyde is the latest of these offerings. . . The production’s directors, Miller and New Line associate artistic director Mike Dowdy, tell this morally bankrupt story with plenty of flair. Matt Pentecost, as the sweet-faced Clyde Barrow, and Larissa White, as slithery Bonnie Parker, deliver their songs with bold, in-the-spotlight bravura. . . The whole score is treated well by the bluesy combo under Jeffrey Carter.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“You have to check out New Line’s current production of Bonnie & Clyde. You’ll be blown away by how engaging the story and characters are, and you’ll be humming the score as you walk out the doors because it’s just so incredibly and infectiously catchy. . . Directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy interpret this piece with considerable style and energy, and the entire cast is fully invested in their vision. Musical Director Jeffrey Richard Carter’s contributions are inestimable, as Frank Wildhorn’s delicious, genre-hopping, syncopated score gets completely stuck in your head. . . Don’t miss out on a chance to see New Line Theatre’s brilliant and tuneful production of Bonnie & Clyde. I guarantee you’ll be singing, whistling, or humming one of the songs from the score before the night is through.” -- Chris Gibson, BroadwayWorld

“New Line has once again seen the potential in an unappreciated show – and has given it a new and glorious life! . . . Bonnie & Clyde is a cool show, and yet another surprise from the company who knows how to keep their choices interesting. The entire cast does a terrific job in this public enemy period piece, bringing the story you think you knew to life through music and dance as only New Line can.” – Kevin Brackett, ReviewSTL

“A fast-paced, toe-tapping romp through the lives of these two outlaw lovers who captured the public’s fascination during America’s depression and made heroes out of two inept, small time thieves who eventually became killers as well. . . . Directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy bring it all together for another entertaining and fun-filled show. . . an evening that is full of surprises and multiple magic moments.” – Steve Allen, Stagedoor St. Louis

“A joy ride of infectious music . . . With fine source material, directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy harness the energy and intelligence of their cast, coupled with the crackling chemistry between title performers Larissa White and Matt Pentecost, for an evening of engaging and thoughtful entertainment. . . Perhaps New Line has mounted a superior production to the Broadway version, because this buoyant, captivating rendition makes it puzzling to understand why Bonnie & Clyde met such a quick death on the Great White Way.” – Mark Bretz, Ladue News

Bonnie & Clyde starts off New Line Theatre’s 24th season with a bang and some exciting new stars, notably Larissa White, Matt Pentecost and Brendan Ochs as well as giving relative newcomer Rey Arceno another opportunity to shine. If you haven’t checked out a New Line show yet this would be a great place to start.” – Jeff Ritter, Critical Blast

“A sure-fire hit. . . Bonnie & Clyde is New Line’s latest project, and with its excellent cast and dynamic, colorful staging, it proves to be a surprisingly resounding success. . . I’ve come to expect excellence from New Line, and my expectations have been met and exceeded by this impressive and memorable production. I like being surprised by great performances, and there are quite a few in this show. Bonnie & Clyde is a show that’s compelling even as it’s unsettling and not a little disturbing, as two charismatic but unashamedly corrupt people rise to prominence quickly and then, even more quickly, fall. It’s a truly memorable production.” – Michelle Kenyon, Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts

“Action alternates with introspection in the book by Ivan Menchell, as these folk heroes, their families and crime sprees are vividly brought to life by a superb cast. . . Bonnie and Clyde’s two years together are now part of American folklore, and New Line’s take makes the characters indelible.” – Lynn Venhaus, Belleville News-Democrat

“Fast-paced and lively (though it begins with a pair of gruesome deaths), the musicalization of these famous bank robbers delivers a reckless kind of delight, almost in spite of itself. . . [It] captures the deep moral friction of Texas and the suffering of the Depression, bristling all the while with the sharp elbows of defiance. It’s full of fine love songs (appropriate to the era), and songs of rebellion and dire warning too. But it’s also a tragedy without remorse, and a comedy full of consequence. . .” – Richard Green, TalkinBroadway

“Painstakingly directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy, the New Line cast brings real soul to Frank Wildhorn’s rockabilly- and gospel-inflected score. . . With lyrics by Don Black and book by Ivan Menchell, the performance is rounded out by a strong ensemble cast . . Rob Lippert’s smart set and creative lighting combine with several provocative directorial touches by Miller and Dowdy. . . This streamlined version of the tale makes for a fun, albeit gory, night of theater. . . This Bonnie & Clyde should be on anyone’s Most Wanted list.” – Malcolm Gay, The Riverfront Times

“This production was fascinating to watch. . . the performances were powerful . . . When a production of this caliber can make me care less about playoff baseball, that is saying something.” – Jim Ryan, BoomSTL

“Tight and strong. . . While the huge appeal of the underlying story of Bonnie and Clyde largely escapes me, when it's treated as well as it is here, it does make a good show.” – Bob Wilcox, KDHX

“What better local company to snatch this show up and give it a fresh perspective, as it’s done many times in the past, than New Line Theatre? . . . Under Jeffrey Richard Carter’s musical direction, the New Line Band is tight, handling Wildhorn’s score of depression-era blues, folk, gospel and rockabilly superbly. . . These details, along with Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy’s precise direction, work together seamlessly. Seeing this production makes it hard to understand why it didn’t last longer in NYC.” – Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob

Why do we all know the names Bonnie and Clyde? Hype.

Bonnie and Clyde weren't particularly competent criminals. They made a lot of mistakes. They left a lot of robberies with nothing to show for it. And they only rarely robbed banks; mostly, it was little mom-and-pop grocery stores and gas stations, often leaving robberies with as little as five or ten dollars.

So how did these half-assed kid-criminals get to be as famous as the “professionals” like Al Capone or John Dillinger? The media. There were two ways to be famous in America in the 1930s. You had to get in the papers or on the screen. In the opening number of Bonnie & Clyde, Bonnie chooses the screen, and Clyde chooses the papers. As it turned out, what really did the trick was Bonnie's poems – the newspapers published anything she gave them, and that's ultimately what made them stars.

Personally, I think the main reason they became more famous than other gangsters is that they were Just Two Wild Kids in Love. None of the other outlaws of the period had a story like that. (Can’t you see Mary Sunshine from Chicago writing about them?) Just imagine Bonnie and Clyde in today's über-saturated media environment. They'd be uploading videos to YouTube twice a day and live-tweeting their robberies. And the FBI would be tracking the GPS on their car because Clyde hadn't thought about that...

This version of the famous story leaves out a lot of things and people, because this isn't historical biography; this is a fable. And the moral of the fable is: A broken country creates broken people with broken values. Like Assassins, this is a show not about historical accuracy as much as emotional authenticity. Documentaries focus on details; this story is about the emotional state of our country during these dark times.

This isn't a love story, either; it’s a story about the unintended creation of criminals. The horror and despair of their lives have molded these damaged, dangerous kids, who can see only one crooked path to any kind of happiness or security in this dystopian America; and they're ill-equipped either to legitimately make their own way, or really, even to be all that good at crime. Because they're essentially children. Emotionally, socially, morally, psychologically, everything but physically, they're children. Continually fed a religion that no longer seems relevant, Bonnie and Clyde have no moral compass, no role models, just the hell-for-leather all-American pursuit of happiness.

At the expense of everyone else. That part Jefferson left out. Clyde brushes up against morality a couple times, but it baffles him. That part of him is broken. Or was never formed. You might say our story tonight is a horror fable, as scary as anything the Grimm Brothers gave us, about how America produced these two monsters and how they would be abandoned by their makers: a socio-economic Frankenstein story of the Great Depression, and a cautionary tale for us today about ever increasing income inequality...

Hands on a Hardbody (2014)

music by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green
lyrics by Amanda Green
book by Doug Wright
based on the documentary film by S. R. Bindler
May 29-June 21, 2014
Washington University South Campus Theatre
Show Webpage
Production Photos

Jesus Peña – Reynaldo Arceno
Mike Ferris – Mike Dowdy
Janis Curtis – Cindy Duggan
Frank Nugent – Zachary Allen Farmer
Greg Wilhote – Ryan Foizey
Virginia Drew – Alison Helmer
Ronald McCowan – Marshall Jennings
Heather Stovall – Taylor Pietz
JD Drew – Todd Schaefer
Norma Valverde – Anna Skidis
Cindy Barnes – Margeau Baue Steinau
Chris Alvaro – Luke Steingruby
Don Curtis – Keith Thompson
Kelli Mangrum – Marcy Wiegert
Benny Perkins – Jeffrey M. Wright

Piano/Conductor – Sue Goldford
Guitar – D. Mike Bauer
Cello – Emily Ebrecht
Violin – Nikki Glenn
Bass – Andrew Gurney
Second Keyboard – Joel Hackbarth
Percussion – Clancy Newell

Director – Scott Miller
Assistant Director – Mike Dowdy
Stage Manager – Gabe Taylor
Scenic Designer – Rob Lippert
The Truck – Rob Lippert, Patrick Donnigan, Melanie Kozak,Shelley Francis, Kathleen Dwyer
Sound Designer – Kerrie Mondy
Costume Designers – Sarah Porter, Marcy Wiegert
Lighting Designer – Kenneth Zinkl
Props Master – Kimi Short
Lighting Technician – Gabe Taylor
Box Office Manager – Christopher "Zany" Clark
Volunteer Coordinator – Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer – Matt Reedy
Photographer – Jill Ritter Lindberg

“The songs in this musical are so damn good. It’s hard to find the words that will truly do them justice. . . With great music, a talented cast and a tremendous group of creatives, Hands on a Hardbody is the surprise hit of the year. There’s something in it for everyone, and surely some aspect to relate with. Whether it’s a truck, or something else your chasing, you’ve got to ‘just keep holding on.’” – Kevin Brackett, ReviewSTL

“In the case of the musical Hands on a Hardbody, story, music and production all come together seamlessly in New Line Theatre’s brilliant and captivating presentation. . . considering that most of the performers spend most of their time literally standing around that cynosure vehicle, Hands on a Hardbody is deceptively exhilarating. . . If you like many musical styles all done impeccably, take this production for a test run.” – Mark Bretz, Ladue News

“Looking over a list of New Line Theatre’s shows for the past 23 years is a very telling experience. This is a group dedicated to restoring the old and embracing the new. That’s why their current production of Hands on a Hardbody shouldn’t shock you that it’s so damn good (it really is), because this is exactly what they do so well. They take something tuneful and different, perform it enthusiastically in an intimate environment, and the audience is rewarded with a fresh and invigorating experience. Go see Hands on a Hardbody now!” – Chris Gibson, BroadwayWorld

“Because of its big heart and real story, the theatrical experience is refreshing, an antithesis of spectacle. It’s warm, funny and touching – clever showcasing, compassionate writing by Pulitzer Prize-winning Doug Wright and pleasing songs by Tony nominees Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green. . . This production features a vitality and nobility that makes it a must-see. You might not have heard of this show, but you definitely won’t forget it.” – Lynn Venhaus, Belleville News-Democrat

“The tender and often funny show comes off as the little show that could. There is nothing huge about it, except it’s packed with emotion and originality, and is a true treat for seasoned or new theater goers alike. Even the cynical will enjoy it. . . Perhaps this clever and heartfelt show—that treats its characters with the utmost respect—never belonged on the Great White Way. It definitely belongs at New Line.” – Christopher Reilly, Alive Magazine

“This bittersweet musical considers the fragile state of the American Dream in the 21st century, with heartfelt songs and familiar characters. . . The result is a solid production, resonating with simple truths and honest, realistic characters who manage to find silver linings in their struggles. . . Scott Miller’s sharp eye and sure direction keep the show visually interesting; with a surprising amount of action considering most of the cast keeps one hand firmly planted on the large truck center stage. The result is an emotionally compelling show that pays tribute to the resilient spirit of the American people without relying on the potentially false promise of the American Dream.” – Tina Farmer, KDHX

“Director Scott Miller has a knack for bringing renewed life to musicals, old and new, and Hardbody is no exception. Sucking you in from the first extended number, ‘It’s a Human Drama Thing,’ . . Your heart breaks a little each time someone takes their hand off of that truck. Go see it.” – Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob

“It’s a pretty sure bet that in the next five years or so, we’ll all have some gizmo called Google Maps of the Soul. And with that app, whenever you’re heading for abstract locations like the intersection of Hope and Despair, you can know about it well before you ever hit the off-ramp. The same advance notice would apply to the cerebral cross-streets of Laughter and Tears, and Faith and Skepticism, as well. But till then, you can just bookmark all those cataclysmic mental latitudes (with a lot of delicious jokes and songs, too) by making one stop at the regional premiere of Hands on a Hardbody, under the surprisingly lithe and dynamic direction of New Line Theatre’s artistic chief Scott Miller. . . And at precisely that moment, you realize you have reached your psychological destination: a crossroads of where we were, and where thought we had been going.” – Richard Green, TalkinBroadway

“With some catchy songs, a strong cast and excellent staging, New Line brings this show to life in vibrant, life-affirming style. . . It’s a stirring story of friendship, love, faith, disillusionment, fear, economic hardship, and the ever-enduring sense of hope that there’s something better down the road. . . It’s a vibrant, energetic, and deeply compelling production with characters just as full of vibrant color as the truck they are all vying for. Although that truck can ultimately only go to one person, everyone is a winner in the long run, and that includes the audience of this big, shiny, colorful prize of a show.” – Michelle Kenyon, Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts

“Last year, Hands on a Hardbody had just a short run on Broadway. New Line – which took similar chances on High Fidelity and Cry-Baby – gives the show its first production since then. Prediction: It won’t be the last.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“It’s been my experience that any musical in which lyricist and composer Amanda Green is involved is always a ton of fun. . . That seems to be Scott Miller’s specialty, finding discarded musicals in the Broadway junkyard, like High Fidelity, and turning them into regional theatre gold. Amanda Green was present for the opening performance and she appeared to enjoy herself immensely. Of course it’s easy to enjoy a production featuring so many of the top voices in the St. Louis theatre scene today.” – Jeff Ritter, The Trades

“There are plenty of bright spots to this quirky show, which, judging from the standing ovation it received Friday night, succeeds on the passion of its cast and singularity of its execution.” – Malcolm Gay, The Riverfront Times

Hands on a Hardbody is about a real-life contest that went on for years in East Texas, in which the last person standing with their hand on a pickup truck, often after three or four days, wins it. The contest ended after 2005, when one of the contestants lost, went across the street, broke into a Kmart and shot himself in the head.

Talk about high stakes.

But our story isn’t really about the truck. It’s about the American middle class struggling to climb out of the massive, seemingly inescapable hole that our government threw us into in the 1980s and again in the early 2000s. And it’s also about what makes us Americans – attitude, grit, bravado, stubbornness, contradiction, self-delusion, toughness, aggressiveness, appetite, commitment, authenticity. These people are America.

This is a character study of our country.

But it’s not just about economic salvation; it’s also about the salvation of dignity. Many of these people have had their dignity taken away from them, by Reaganomics (in the original 1997 documentary) or the 2008 recession (in the musical). This contest is a chance to reclaim that lost dignity.

At first, I thought this was a story about holding on, hanging tough. But now I see that, even more, it’s about what we value, a very timely topic in these tough times. Every one of these contestants thinks this truck is incredibly important, their salvation, their only hope. In the first two songs in the show, they each tell us how high the stakes are for them, how desperately they need to win, how it will change or even save their lives. But then all but one of them lose, and we find out in the last song that they were wrong about the truck.

The truck wasn’t the point after all, they discover. It’s the journey, not the destination; the ordeal, the striving, that teaches them what they need to learn. On the other hand, many of them wouldn’t take this journey (ironically enough, by standing around a truck that never goes anywhere), if not for this contest and this truck. In a way, none of them really needs to win the truck, but they all need the truck to find what they are missing.

The contest shows them that they were on the wrong path. They were valuing things and ultimately, they all learn that people – simple human connections – matter more.

Benny is right, after all; it is a human drama thing.

Rent (2014)

book, music, and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
original concept/additional lyrics by Billy Aronson
based on the novel Scenes de la Vie de Bohème by Henri Murger
March 6-29, 2014
Washington University South Campus Theatre
Show Webpage
Production Photos

Mark Cohen – Jeremy Hyatt
Roger Davis – Evan Fornachon
Angel Dumott Schunard – Luke Steingruby
Tom Collins – Marshall Jennings
Mimi Marquez – Anna Skidis
Maureen Johnson – Sarah Porter
Joanne Jefferson – Cody LaShea
Benjamin Coffin III – Shawn Bowers
Paul, Waiter, “Christmas Bells” soloist, et al. – Kevin Corpuz
Mr. Jefferson, The Man, et al. – Robert Lee Davis III
Gordon, “Seasons of Love” soloist, et al. – Zachary Allen Farmer
Steve, vender, Pastor, et al. – Ryan Foizey
Alexi Darling, Back-Up Singer, et al. – Wendy Greenwood
Angry Lady, “Seasons of Love” soloist, et al. – Melissa Harris
Mrs. Jefferson, et al. – Nellie Mitchell
Mrs. Cohen, Pam, Back-Up Singer, et al. – Marcy Wiegert

Piano/Conductor – Justin Smolik
Lead Guitar – D. Mike Bauer
Bass – Vince Clark
Rhythm Guitar – Aaron Doerr
Percussion – Clancy Newell

Director – Scott Miller
Assistant Director – Mike Dowdy
Music Director – Justin Smolik
“Tango: Maureen” Choreographer – Robin Michelle Berger
Scenic and Lighting Designer – Rob Lippert
Costume Designers – Sarah Porter, Marcy Wiegert
Sound Designer – Kerrie Mondy
Scenic Painters – Melanie Kozak, Sharon Russell, Gary Karasek
Graffiti Artists – William Wade, Kathleen Dwyer, Mitchell Matthews, Justin Foizey
Stage Manager – Gabe Taylor
Props Master – Alison Helmer
Lighting Technician – Gabe Taylor
Box Office Manager – Kim Avants
Volunteer Coordinator – Ann Stinebaker
Graphic Designer – Matt Reedy
Photographer – Jill Ritter Lindberg

“So how did co-directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy craft the hard-faceted and brilliant gem of a show I saw Friday night from the detritus that is Rent? The mind reels. Theirs is a Rent that is sharp, incisive and viscerally moving. These characters matter; their struggles to find themselves in the wastelands of their early twenties are a potent reminder of what it's like to feel lost in your own life, and that even small steps toward maturity can feel immense. In Miller and Dowdy's hands, Rent is a show that deserves every bit of its formidable reputation as the musical that revivified musicals for the next generation. . . It is a masterpiece of stagecraft, a composition as visually stunning as it is sonically powerful.” – Paul Friswold, The Riverfront Times

“Jonathan Larson's 1996 rock musical unfolds to epic proportions in this lively new production. It's also sweet and funny and beautiful, under the direction of Scott Miller. . . It almost seems Mr. Miller is choosing his seasons nowadays for sheer emotional complexity, along with New Line's usual focus on strong musicianship. And the results have been enthralling. Rent continues the company's recent trend of bringing stunning characters furiously to life, in all their contradictions.” – Richard Green, TalkinBroadway

"An intimate, emotionally charged production filled with memorable performances. . . Director Scott Miller and assistant Mike Dowdy have assembled a uniformly talented, fearless cast, and the two excel in pulling out the small moments that illuminate character development. The presence of a guiding hand is clear throughout the production, yet the movements and character nuances feel almost organic, as if each actor pulled his or her role from the inside out. The result is a unified cast that creates a truly bohemian community on the stage. And this feeling is intensified in the group numbers, where layered harmonies blend seamlessly, rising and falling with the emotion of the story." – Tina Farmer, KDHX

“With the current local production of Rent, the question was could New Line Theatre show me something the national tour hadn’t? The answer came last Saturday night: Yes. Yes, they could. . . Undoubtedly, the intimacy of a small production helps to make the story more sincere, but it’s more than that. Director Scott Miller has removed sole focus on a handful of characters to focus on the cast as a whole, and this helps to view the work as a singular organism, with a singular meaning and purpose. Even the music seemed better, with the excellent voices and performances by the cast and the New Line band under the direction of Justin Smolik, two things you can always count on at New Line. . . Everything works together throughout the entire production, top to bottom, for a powerhouse evening of theater.” – Christopher Reilly, Alive Magazine

“If you think you've seen Rent before, you really haven't. . . This is a must-see show, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. . . Scott Miller's direction, with the able assistance of Mike Dowdy, is a revelation. . . Rent is a modern classic, and New Line's wonderful production shows us why.” – Chris Gibson, BroadwayWorld

“This Rent has a completely different vibe from the big show that toured the country. Intimate and raw, this production makes the story coherent and the music effective, instead of merely loud. Yes, size matters – but not in the way we usually think it does.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Leave it to New Line Theater to give this seminal work a fresh spin. The result is an electric, enthralling presentation of the landmark Pulitzer-Prize, Tony-winning musical that ran for 12 years on Broadway. . . [The actors'] zeal propelled the show's intensity, and it seemed like we were seeing some of these characters for the first time.” – Lynn Venhaus, Belleville News-Democrat

“The new concept and the advantage of intimacy that New Line always offers, makes this one a big, fat hit. . . It’s a total effort that shows the diversity and depth of New Line talent. Scott Miller has once again put his personal stamp on a classic show and it turns out to be yet another audience pleaser. . . this score is pulsating, tender and just a pure delight. Now we have a production that matches these great songs and makes you actually like the people who populate the show. This one’s a big hit, folks.” – Steve Allen, Stagedoor St. Louis

“I was admittedly one of those folks who didn't get all the hype around Rent after I saw it for the first time several years ago. Well, now I get it. The characters this time around, though dealing with major issues that would be tough for anyone, have an affable quality that was lacking the last time I saw it. Could it be because seeing a show like this in New Line's intimate space makes the theatre experience not just something you see, but something you feel? Yes. But it's also New Line's artistic director, Scott Miller's knack for gaining a deep understanding of whatever he puts his hands on, and translating that to his cast, who in turn translate that to us, reaching out to the audience, in this case literally, with invigorating connection. way better than the touring production. There. I said it.” – Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob

Rent is being performed by New Line Theatre to sold-out houses, including a most appreciative audience. . . Seeing Rent up close and personal at New Line’s theater is a definite improvement over the more impersonal venue at The Fox, where touring companies have done the show with seemingly less impact.” – Mark Bretz, Ladue News

“I’m glad directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy have chosen to follow their own vision for the show. New Line’s version is full of youth and energy. It’s also staged with a sense of immediacy that brings a lot of life to the show. Although the passage of time has turned Rent into something of a period piece, New Line doesn’t treat it that way, and that’s as it should be. It’s an iconic show made achingly real, with all the truth and energy brought along with its humanity. It may have taken New Line many years to finally do this show, but this production is well worth that wait.” – Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts (local blogger)

“As a first-time observer of this story, there was a lot to take in. Rent is the kind of show that rewards its audience with repeated viewings. I could see the show five more times and discover some new facet that I completely overlooked each time before. It’s complex, funny, dark, thought-provoking and ultimately very entertaining.” – Jeff Ritter, The Trades

Since we first announced Rent, several people have said to me some variation of “I hate Rent. Those characters are all selfish, whiny brats!” These people are not entirely wrong. But they’re also missing a lot.

This is a coming-of-age story, and so it requires a central character (or characters) who have not yet come of age. If the kids in Rent were all well-adjusted and wise, there’d be no story to tell. Remember what a whiny bitch Luke Skywalker is when we first meet him on Tatooine? And though we don’t really see it, it’s strongly implied early in The Wizard of Oz that Dorothy is a real pain in the ass too. And really, the whole point of High Fidelity is that Rob’s a dick, and he needs to grow up and stop being a dick.

Every protagonist in every story has to learn something. In Rent, these kids need to learn to see beyond their own selves, their own lives, their own immediate wants; to learn that we’re all interconnected, we’re all responsible for each other, or as Sondheim put it so elegantly, “Careful, no one is alone.”

I have this theory that the people who hate Rent see their younger selves in these characters and they don’t like that. After all, most of us are whiny and selfish when you’re young (and we artsies can be the worst); we all still have growing up left to do at that age. On the other hand, several of the central characters in Rent are dealing with much bigger issues than nineteen- or twenty-year-olds should face – AIDS, death, suicide, drug addiction, dangerous streets, etc. How many college-age kids ever grapple with anything like that?

 Hero Myth stories like this work because we instinctively recognize the elements of the story, even if only subconsciously, as elements of our own lives. The hero’s journey is always a metaphor for living a human life.

Angel is the wise wizard in this collective hero myth. She’s almost other-worldly in her Zen-like understanding of the world around her, her wisdom, her compassion. She’s there to teach the others (and us) a valuable lesson, to see the world in terms of what we can give instead of what we can get. Angel teaches her friends to be more Christ-like.

After all, Rent is about “the least of these,” the poor, the outcasts, the sick, the rejected – you know, the folks Jesus hung out with. For much of the twentieth century, Alphabet City has been where mainstream society’s rejects form their own community, their own support system, to some extent even their own economy. It’s the place where Mark can toast, “To being an us for once, instead of them.” It’s a place where Mark can ask, “Is anyone in the mainstream?” because he knows the answer is no. Not here.

Maybe the most potent part of the magic of Rent is that its production requires the same kind of community the show depicts. Any cast of Rent has to be, by Jonathan Larson’s design, racially and sexually diverse. And that’s why performing and watching Rent can be so powerful – the sense of community and the intense emotions aren’t just realistic; they’re real. The actors aren’t just portraying all that; they’re living it onstage.

And we’re living it with them.