The independent news website of The Kent Stater & TV2


The independent news website of The Kent Stater & TV2


The independent news website of The Kent Stater & TV2


Follow KentWired on Instagram
Today’s Events

REVIEW: ‘No Day But Today’: Rent’s message of love, hope erupts amid a haze of fear, hate

The School of Music and Theatre presents ‘Rent’ at E. Turner Stump Theatre
Cadie Pierce
Life goes on, with hope leading as the group of friends huddle, front from left, Kristiana Corona, Dominic Young, middle from left, Hannah Hall, Shea Suffoletta, Jake Kleve and back, Dante Murray, celebrating life, love and the point that there’s “No Day But Today.”

Editor’s note: Descriptions of the portrayal of the character Mimi Marquez were elaborated on for clarification post-publication. 

The message echoed by Mimi Marquez and ensemble members during the closing verse to “Another Day” is a message that needs to be heard and felt.

“There’s only now! There’s only here! Give in to love or live in fear. No other path. No other way. No day but today!”

This month, the Kent State School of Theatre and Dance is bringing to life “Rent,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning and multiple Tony Award-winning musical by the late Jonathan Larson.

With the echo of the ensemble, Mimi, performed by senior musical theatre major Kristiana Corona, overpowers Roger Davis’ fear and insecurity about tomorrow. Davis protests at Mimi, saying, “Who do you think you are, barging in on me and my guitar?

Larson’s magnum opus about living in fear amid chaos and the hope that permeates through the chaos echoes today in the post-COVID 19 pandemic era and in a time where LGBTQ+ discrimination persists, albeit much more visible than in the 1990s, shines just as bright then as it does now.

The show itself discusses dated concepts, like AZT (azidothymidine), the first antiviral drug to treat AIDS, which has been replaced by other medications, the use of payphones, screening calls using a tape answering machine and corded home phones. However, looking beyond these simple references shows a story that “questions and explores love, joy, authority and connection,” as described by director Amy Fritsche, an associate professor of acting and musical theatre.

I would add to Fritsche’s comments that the show grapples with the ever-constant fight between pursuing individual passion and capitalism and the struggle for individuals to sell out to corporate America and the wealthy elite at expense of our humanity, passion, and desires.

As Robin Williams said in “Dead Poets Society,” “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

The villain in the show is capitalism, as it deals with homelessness, poverty, drug abuse, discrimination and living with terminal illness.

Larson’s 1992 statement of concept shows the purpose of Rent was three things:

First, to quash the idea of the ‘AIDS Victim’ stereotype to prove that people with AIDS can live full lives.

Second, AIDS affects everybody, not just homosexuals and drug users, a point proven with Magic Johnson’s diagnosis in 1991.

Before AIDS was renamed, it was known as Gay-Related Immune Deficiency.  The use of GRID was heavily discriminatory to homosexuals in the 70s and 80, much like President Trump’s use of “China-virus” to describe COVID 19 in 2020.

And finally, in our desensitized culture the ones who are staving off death often live more fully than members of the so-called “mainstream.”

That last point is the reason Rent is a popular and timeless classic among the musical theatre genre and the ninth-longest running first-run musical on Broadway, even 15 years after closing.

At the time of its closing, it was the sixth-longest running first-run musical, surpassed since by “The Lion King,” “Mamma Mia” and, most recently, “Wicked.”

Larson, having written only one previous musical – a “rock monologue” called “tick… tick… BOOM!”, which has since been edited to add two performers – never got to see Rent performed because of his death at 35 of an aortic dissection from possible Marfan Syndrome on the morning of the first planned off-Broadway preview performance.

I am absolutely sure Larson is looking down on Kent and smiling.

The choreography of Fritsche and Jocelyn Trimmer, a senior musical theatre student, was delightfully complimentary, and at points, enhanced the performance to the stratosphere. “La Vie Boheme” is a prime case.

Mimi is a workhorse role that exposes every weakness in a performer, and probably one of the most challenging roles in musical theater and Corona delivers a good, almost great, performance.  One of the best acted and choreographed Mimi’s I’ve had the pleasure of watching, Corona excelled at showcasing the addict that Mimi was. She conveyed and extracted the emotions needed to showcase the pain and suffering Mimi has to endure, all the while exuding the hope of simply living for today.

The moment for Corona was “Out Tonight,” where, coupled with the direction of Fritsche and the choreography of Fritsche and Trimmer, she delivers three minutes of high octane energy into one of the best performances I’ve seen.  The trio brought top-notch choreography and hit near-perfection.

Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III, portrayed by senior theatre studies major Collin Geter embodies the villain of the show so perfectly. Benny conveys the “Corporate America” sellout who marries into money so confidently and arrogantly. Geter’s rendition of “You’ll See” is a high point of the entire show, even as one of my least favorite songs in the show.

Roger Davis, portrayed by senior musical theatre major Dominic Young, like Corona, showcases the suffering Roger goes through with the idea that he died three years before when he received his AIDS diagnosis and the growth through the show comes to head with the penultimate song “Your Eyes.” However, the suffering Roger goes through is highlighted perfectly in “One Song Glory.”

Mark Cohen, portrayed by senior musical theatre major Jake Kleve, is so reminiscent and memory-invoking to the point where his “La Vie Boheme” is top notch, and the emotion showcased through the existential crisis that Mark endures in “What You Own” is a true highlight.

Joanne Jefferson, portrayed by senior musical theatre major Hannah Hall, took one of my less-favored characters in the show and sent it towards the top of the list – although Mark is and forever will be my favorite.

There is not one time Hall is on stage that attention doesn’t fall to her.  The platonic chemistry between her and Kleve is impeccable, which is exuded in “Tango: Maureen.”

But the three who deserve the most discussion are Maureen, Tom, and Angel.

Angel Dumott Schunard, played by senior musical theatre major Felix Albino, portrays the genderfluid drag queen to absolute perfection. “Today 4 U” showcases a performance prowess that is truthfully unmatched.  Albino just nails the choreography and matches an energy that is difficult to cross.

Tom Collins, portrayed by freshman musical theatre major Dante Murray, is, like Kleve, reminiscent and memory-invoking and, above all, emotional.

Another one where every time he’s on stage draws focus to him, but his solo during the “I’ll Cover You: Reprise” should open a well of tears in the entire theater. But coupled with Albino, their duet of the majestic love song “I’ll Cover You” just touches the heart.

But it’s the scene following the reprise where Murray truly nails it.

When his six friends are all screaming at each other, complete with Mimi and Joanne wishing they could experience the love that Collins and Angel had, Murray’s entrance where he pleads with them and wonders why they’re fighting is where he shines.

And last, but certainly not least, sophomore musical theatre major Shea Suffoletta, who plays Maureen Johnson, turns a character generally accepted as an insufferable, narcissistic, abusive gaslighter into a conversation piece.  Suffoletta not only excelled vocally, matching wits with the best of them, but she shaped a character I have always had a visceral hatred for as a hyper-empathetic, polyamorous, passionately vivacious, neurodivergent person.

Suffoletta never once came across as though her toxic actions were done with intent, but instead were acted with absolute primal ferocity, that Maureen fails to control.

The kiss with Mark during “La Vie Boheme,” coupled with her reaction to Joanne throwing her out, shows that Suffoletta’s Maureen is some type of neurodivergent. But the glaring example comes when she’s venting frustrations towards Joanne before “Take Me or Leave Me” and how she has to mask around Joanne, and she’s done masking.

However, while I understand and empathize with Joanne and Mark’s feelings, expressed during “Tango: Maureen,” cheating is always wrong. The difference between polyamory and cheating is communication. With Suffoletta’s portrayal in this incomplete love triangle, they all share blame, whereas with other portrayals, Maureen takes most, if not all, the blame.

Plus, Suffoletta and Hall’s “Take Me or Leave Me” stands among the best. The only thing it was missing was being staged dead center and a billiards table.

Outside the principals, the two featured soloists in “Seasons of Love,” Trimmer and Anthony Ghali, stood out immensely, with Trimmer’s vocal belt being majestic.

Plus the trio of soloists in “I’ll Cover You: Reprise,” Julia Ruggirello, Megan Uline and Trimmer add a gigantic accent to an amazing performance by Dante Murray.

Finally, De’Ontae Murray’s bit part as “The Man” was noteworthy in its own way. Despite having a couple of lines, his presence during “Christmas Bells” and “Happy New Year B” was key as the dealer that the addicts, including Mimi, would flock to. The confrontation between De’Ontae and Young feels like they would come to blows if Corona doesn’t pull Young away.

Truthfully, every single performer in the show deserves some noteworthiness, as every one contributed something to an electric production.

On a technical and musical side, Gennie Neuman Lambert’s set was top notch and accentuated the production just enough to not be too much, but also not be not enough.

Nick Eberts lit the show like the rock concert it is and made Neuman Lambert’s set be striking. Within Eberts’ lights, there are a few Easter eggs that I found absolutely hysterical.

The accents added by Katie Rowland’s sound effects, Vicki Mearini’s costumes and Frankie Teuber’s props all gave it the much needed accents to create this beautifully well-rounded production.  Jonathan Swoboda directed the band and cast with surgical precision.

And everything was tied together neatly and executed to near perfection by the unsung captain, Production Stage Manager Lauren Downey, and the entire crew.

On a scale from “Miss” to “Attend by any means necessary,” this production falls under “Attend by any means necessary.”

If you have ever seen “Rent” before, and especially for ‘Rent-Heads’, like me, this production is an “Attend by any means necessary… and multiple times.”

There are a few caveats to my rating. I would discourage anyone bringing a child under 13, and teenagers between 13 and 17 would require parental discretion.

If you harbor feelings of homophobia or transphobia, negativity toward drug addicts or generally lean far-right, this may not be the show for you.

It is absolutely a show for the open-minded.

“Rent” features drug use, death, vocal depictions of suicide, and varying degrees of sexual and intimate relations, both homo- and heterosexual.

Rent is running on the stage at E. Turner Stump Theater on campus until Feb. 25, 2024. Information and tickets can be found here.

Cadie Pierce is a photographer. Contact her at [email protected]

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Cadie Pierce, Photographer
Cadie Pierce (she/they) is a Senior Integrative Studies major and Photojournalism minor and staff photographer for KentWired/Kent Stater. Cadie can be reached at [email protected].

Comments (0)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *