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A high-energy, wonderful 'Rent'

Four steel tables. A few folding chairs. Love and loss. One remarkable musical phenomenon. From Dec. 5 through Sunday, Shea's Performing Arts Center was transformed into New York City's gritty East Village in the touring production of "Rent."

A musical? If the mere thought brings fear and disgust of kick lines and 76 trombones to your mind, then you have not experienced "Rent."

A modern take on Puccini's opera "La Boheme," "Rent" follows a year in the lives of eight friends (and sometimes foes) in New York City in the late '80s, battling eviction, the AIDS epidemic, drug addiction and each other. But through loss, they join together and learn to celebrate life.

With house lights still on and the audience shifting in their seats or discussing the weather, the cast runs out and begins, surprising everyone and immediately drawing you into the story. Act One introduced the characters and the plot to the audience through rock ballads and the thrilling high-energy songs "Rent" has become famous for.

Act Two brought waves of emotion -- and tears -- with the death of one of the friends.

With an abstract set design of debris and metal, the stage is often a fury of activity as it may be four different settings at once -- not to mention the live band onstage, which added to the reality of the show.

Powerful vocals were maintained throughout the show, even while actors were jumping on tables, dancing on a rickety railing, or getting into a fight. Commanding songs, such as "Rent" and "La Vie Boheme", were sung with such vigor they filled the entire theater, the cast easily shifting into beautiful, heart-wrenching ballads like "Another Day" and "Life Support."

Those who have seen the 2005 movie may have been disappointed that it was not a carbon copy. But with more songs and the emotion of a live performance, this production offered so much more.

Applause should really go to the casting directors, as many in this cast sound remarkably like the original Broadway cast, to the audience's glee. Mark Cohen ( Harley Jay) had the same sarcastic repertee, Tom Collins (Warren G. Nolan, Jr.) maintained his deep, soulful voice, and Maureen Johnson (Tracy McDowell) sounded like Idina Menzel's (from the original cast) twin.

For some, it may have been disconcerting and odd to hear Roger (Declan Bennet) with a British accent, but was quickly forgotten when you heard his strong rock vocals.

"Rent" is in its 11th season and support for the show is still going strong. Fan support was evident at Shea's when the theater exploded with applause before the entrance of fan favorites, like Angel (Melvin Bell III) in "Today 4 U" and Mimi's (Krystal Brown) "Out Tonight." Diehard fans easily found themselves singing along , as I saw more than one person guilty of.

All these years later, "Rent" still rings true to its message of love and acceptance; a message that the people of Western New York have shown through their attitude toward the show that they accept too. Viva La Vie Boheme!

Carlene Miller is a freshman at Alden.

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