North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s production of “Rent” has many impressive elements, but unless you’re already a ticket-holder, you’ll likely not experience them (although a hold-over weekend has just been added). Credit the musical’s extreme popularity but also the company’s growing reputation as a high-quality producer of Broadway musicals in an intimate setting.
The production’s most striking aspect is the uniform commitment by cast and creative team. The gritty story of poor, young artists in New York City amid drugs and disease must be played to the fullest to have its intended impact.
Director David Henderson’s cast of 15 confidently work as one to project the show’s emotional intensity. Henderson and choreographer Chasta Hamilton Calhoun make the company’s small stage seem several times larger with clever use of every inch of space, aided by Thomas Mauney’s vivid lighting design and his minimalist set of scaffolding and metal tables that become lofts, nightclubs and cityscapes. Musical director and keyboardist Shane Dittmar, along with bass, guitar and drums, gives the rock score proper power but also great subtlety and warmth when needed.
No less impressive is the entire cast’s vocal and acting talents. Dusty Thomas makes aspiring filmmaker Mark affecting, his clear enunciation and appealing voice blending especially well in duets with Robert Lang as frustrated songwriter Roger. Lang’s fiercely focused vocals are particularly gripping in duets with Roger’s newfound love Mimi, whom Destiny McNeill gives extraordinary depth, combining brash sensuality with tender vulnerability.
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The show’s poignant center is the pairing of adorable drag queen Angel and activist professor Tom, their poignant romance destined for tragedy. Waylin Owsley’s Angel is lovably saucy without going over the top, and Aaron Harrington’s Tom is heartwarmingly protective. Harrington is responsible for the production’s emotional high point, his impassioned tribute to Angel, the “I’ll Cover You” reprise, leaving no eyes dry.
Also of note are Andrea Twiss’ high-strung Maureen and Tyanna West’s prickly Joanne, their romantic sparring supplying welcome humor.
Based on this production and the company’s previous “Carrie” and “Xanadu,” theatergoers should buy tickets well in advance for any of its ambitious upcoming season of five mainstage musicals.
Where: North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, 7713-51 Lead Mine Road, Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and May 8-9; 3 p.m. May 3 and 10. (Call or visit the website for holdover dates and times.)
Info: 919-866-0228 or nract.org