The Gateway Playhouse’s 2017 season has begun in a big way with the iconic rock musical Rent making its debut in Bellport. With music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, the Broadway production of Rent garnered much acclaim from critics, and went on to win several Tony Awards before its 12-year run came to a close. The captivating story of a unique grouping of friends has acquired quite a following, and its success led to a film version in 2005 that included many of the original Broadway cast members.
Gateway has yet again delivered on its promise to bring Broadway caliber productions—and talent—to Long Island, as its version of Rent is nothing short of magical. From the explosive, heart-wrenching music to the undeniably talented actors, Gateway’s Rent is everything you want it to be.
Set in the lower east side of Manhattan, Rent takes you on a year-long journey through the lives of a group of friends living in a gritty area where poverty runs deep, drugs are commonplace and disease lurks everywhere. Gateway’s extraordinary cast expresses the power of love and hate, displaying full commitment to the show’s sweeping narrative and complex characters. In the first big number, the namesake song “Rent” immediately sent goosebumps up my arms. The familiar face and voice of Anthony Festa, as heartthrob Roger, was a welcome sight and sound. Playing the heartsick, world-weary ex-guitarist frontman, Festa makes the perfect Roger: mussed up hair, leather jacket and devilishly handsome with a voice to stop your heart. Jeremy Greenbaum, as the dorkishly adorable Mark, is witty and self-deprecating. He and Roger belt out the first number so well, you just know there’s greatness to come. Roger’s ballad, “One Song Glory,” is easily a favorite and Festa didn’t disappoint. The raw emotion he brings is riveting, immersed in the sadness Roger feels at the moment.
The vivacious, sexy Mimi is played by Michele Veintimilla, a perfect choice for leading lady. Sultry yet graceful with a commanding voice, Veintimilla hits this show out of the park. Mimi’s duet with Roger, “Light My Candle,” never fails to bring a smile to my face, and seeing it live is indescribably fun and exciting. Mimi’s solo, “Take Me Out Tonight,” is also one of my favorite numbers, and Veintimilla strutted her stuff across the stage, showing that she has the moves and vocals it takes to be one stellar, strong and captivating performer.
Another favorite duo of mine is Collins and Angel. Collins is tall, dark and broodingly handsome, with a sexy baritone voice to match. Jared Dixon plays a somewhat softer version of the Tom Collins in my mind, but his performance was touching and sweet, and his interaction with Angel, played by the talented Andres Quintero, was heartbreaking. Their tender love is one of the sweetest aspects of this story, and this production captures it perfectly. “I’ll Cover You” brought a tear to my eye. We should all be lucky enough to find a love like that of these two characters.
The raucous scene, “La Vie Boheme,” will have you clapping along and bobbing your head to the infectious beat, while watching an incredibly talented cast perform an iconic scene that will replay in your head for a long time to come. “Seasons of Love” is one of my all-time favorite ballads, and this cast put all of themselves into the number. I felt this one in my soul—I wish I could watch it over and over again. This cast of crazy-talented performers is mind blowing. These songs’ lyrics cannot simply be sung—they must be felt by those singing, and in turn the audience will feel the emotion emanating from the performers.
Rent is a story that teaches us about humanity, loving despite differences, and compassion for others. Above all, however, Rent teaches us about the power of love, reminding us to cherish that emotion every second of every day.
Rent plays at the Gateway Playhouse through June 3. For tickets and info on all shows call 631-286-1133 or visit thegateway.org