Scotch'n'Soda's 'Rent': a Review

As someone who hadn't actually seen "Rent," I was disappointed to learn that there's only one song about (not) paying rent.

Of course, "Rent" is a lot more than its title, and Scotch’n’Soda's performance of it was both a jam and a lament. The opening number, also called "Rent," rocked Rangos Ballroom as Mark (played by Luke Suddeth) and Roger (Nick Grosso) declared they would not pay rent to their roommate-turned-landlord, Benny (Clayton Edwards). Scotch’n’Soda’s performace lived up to the rock-and-roll that "Rent" is known for, but after that opening number, the musical took turns between celebration and mourning, hope and hopelessness, and life and death.

At its core, "Rent" focused on the unwinding of a group of friends due to the fallout of HIV and AIDS infections pushing them apart. Characters including Roger, Angel (Riley Santiago), and Mimi (Lisset Martinez) all have HIV or AIDS, and, in this musical set in the early 90s, it feels like a death sentence. Throughout the second act, as Angel and Mimi's conditions worsen and Roger grows increasingly distant, the characters return again and again to sing the musical's most famous song, "Seasons of Love." The musical continuously invokes the theme of measuring the time characters have left in love.

In Scotch’n’Soda's production, the actors created a lot of love amongst themselves. Whether romantic (in "Cover Me," about each couples' sex lives) or platonic (ganging up against Benny in "La Vie Bohème"), Scotch’n’Soda put together numbers that felt like the whole cast was singing as one. The major characters and the ensemble seemed to all pull in the same direction, and the crowd erupted into cheers during a number when the ensemble waved pride flags and danced in a circle.

In terms of group numbers, Scotch’n’Soda's cast pulled together and formed a tight-knit, wonderful group. Many of the duets stood out, too: Suddeth and Vicky Walters (playing Joanne) were at once convincing and hilarious in "Tango: Maureen." Walters and Shaelyn Parker (as Maureen) were magnetic and worked the will-they-won't-they dynamic well in "Take Me or Leave Me." Quincy Eaton (playing Collins) delivered a standout performance loving, caring for, and mourning Santiago's Angel.

Still, the musical was not without some hiccups. Perhaps because of the setup in Rangos, the characters were hard to hear at times and the volume of the microphones had to be constantly adjusted.

Although the cast showed off their pride in their performance, the musical hasn't been without controversy. An introduction in the program noted that Jonathon Larson's authorship of "Rent" was its own controversy. A collaborator who worked on the musical with him, Lynn Thomson, sued for royalties (she later settled with Larson's estate out of court). The introduction also notes that he borrowed stories from many of the LGBTQ+ people around him, including the author Sarah Schulman.

A cast member wrote to The Tartan before "Rent" opened voicing similar concerns. "I truly love the people working on this production and I am sure that it will be a good experience for many involved," they wrote. "I just hope that because of its mal-intentioned origin (once again emphasizing that “Rent” is the product of a white, cis, straight man's take on the work of a queer woman), the show doesn’t cause more harm than good to the communities we are trying to uplift."

As a member of the audience, Angel seemed less well-done than other LGBTQ+ characters of the show, which was not helped by the audio issues. I missed some of the dialogue and didn't even realize Angel was the same character who helped Collins at first. Angel and Collins didn't have the same chemistry that the other couples like Mimi and Roger or Maureen and Joanne did.

As for whether the musical succeeded in uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, I would hope so, but I'm not one to speak on it. Personally, I feel that the cast did a good job, but it takes the whole crew to do representation right.