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In Churchill's 'Rent: School Edition,' Heavy Matter Is Tackled Head-On

Kristin Maller, a student at St. Andrew's Episcopal School, reviews Winston Churchill High School's production of 'Rent: School Edition.'

Mark (played by Josh Kaufmann) points out what it means to "La Vie Boheme" with the company. (By Joe McCary)

Love, AIDS, drugs, homosexuality, poverty-- these are just some of the weighty topics handled with maturity by the cast of Winston Churchill High School'sproduction of "Rent: School Edition."

Jonathan Larson's rock musical based loosely on Puccini's "La Boheme," won four Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for drama after it opened in 1996. After a brief off-Broadway run, the show moved to Broadway, where it ran for 12 years before closing in September. The show was made into a 2005 movie.

In New York city int he 1990s roommates and starving artists Mark (Josh Kaufmann), a filmmaker, and Roger (Steven Rigaux), a guitarist and singer, struggle to find subject matter and keep their apartment after Benny (Sean McDonald), an ex-roommate who is now their landlord, demands that they pay rent. Mark finds inspiration in the relationships and struggles of his friends, Roger and Mimi (Beca Murphy), Angel (Josh Simon) and Tom (Josh Coyne), and Maureen (Sonya Lilienstein) and Joanne (Sara Bonner).

The "School Edition" makes minimal changes to language and eliminates one song ("Contact") from the original, making it possible for high schools to stage the show.

The generally strong vocals of Churchill's cast contribute to the show's success. Kaufmann and Rigaux sang with intensity and used the stage well during "What You Own." Murphy was at her best in 'Without You," which displayed her pure mezzo-soprano and her understanding of Mimi's desperation.

Simon and Coyne interacted convincingly in "I'll Cover You." Simon, who had the challenging role of across-dresser, never broke character, even when out of the spotlight. In "I'll cover You (Reprise)," Coyne moved the audience to tears with his poignant performance, and Lilienstein's "Over the Moon" made the audience laugh and moo with her.

Angel (played by Josh Simon) celebrates the end of "Today for You" as Collins (played by Josh Coyne), Roger (played by Steven Rigaux) and Mark (played by Josh Kaufmann) look on. (By Joe McCary)

Although the cast struggled with portraying the anguish of living with or around AIDS, group numbers "La Vie Boheme" and "Seasons of Love" highlighted the ensemble's vocal talent and increased the energy and confidence of the cast. The standout solo by ensemble member Shelby Sykes in "Seasons of Love" was spectacular.

The technical aspects of the musical, though not flawless, generally improved the show. Microphone problems during the first act of a performance last weekend were fixed by the second act.

Although the set's small apartment space hindered Simon's performance of "Today for You," its multiple levels added to songs such as "Out Tonight." The costumes did not reflect the homelessness of most of the ensemble, but they did enhance the feel of a bohemian lifestyle.

Because of its subject matter and wide range of characterizations and music, "Rent" is as difficult a show to stage. Despite these challenges, Churchill put on an entertaining performance.

By Washington Post Editors  |  October 29, 2008; 12:13 PM ET
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