ARLINGTON You would think that this bedroom community nestled between Fort Worth and Dallas would not have to deal with the same sort of woes our urban centers suffer routinely.
Yet, smack in the middle of downtown Arlington, a large group of impoverished, jobless young people, including several drug users and (horrors!) artists, have made themselves right at home.
But since the exuberant and talented cast of Theatre Arlington's production of the Puccini-inspired musical Rent sing and act so well, it is not likely that the local constabulary will be called.
This is a show that should be too large for a house this size to pull off. But thanks to excellent direction by Andy Baldwin, a fine roster of players and a stunning set by Bob Lavallee, this production pays the landlord and still has beer money left over.
The greatest of this production's many strengths is its cast. There are several standouts and hardly a weak link to be found.
Shane Allen, as the guitar-hugging Roger, and Tim McCarthy, as the filmmaker and chronicler Mark, hold the show together nicely. Allen is particularly strong vocally, while McCarthy is a solid actor with an exceptional gift for movement.
The supporting roles are a collection of gems. Major Attaway, as Tom Collins, employs his gliding bass-baritone with great effect on some of the show's better tunes (such as Santa Fe). Angel Velasco, camps it up tunefully as the open-hearted drag queen Angel. Courtney Nicole Sikora is both funny and note perfect as Maureen, the self-absorbed diva everybody wants. And Melissa McMillan has a superb voice that is not heard enough in her performance as the icy lawyer, JoAnne.
The only problematic performance among the leads is that of Stephanie Fischer, as Roger's love interest, Mimi. She acts her part well, bringing a drugged-out sensuality to her character, and nearly all of her singing is on the mark. But at Saturday's performance seen for this review, she missed the mark badly in her biggest number, Out Tonight. It was so out of step with the rest of her performance that it begged the question of whether she was completely overmatched by the song or just having a bad night.
There were also a few problems with the microphones, and the balance between the on-stage seven-piece band (led by music director Richard Gwozdz) and vocalists was not always exact.
But just about everything else sparkles in this show, which debuted in 1996 and features a book and music by Jonathan Larson. Not enough can be said about Lavallee's brilliant set, which uses every inch of available space and sets the atmosphere perfectly. And lighting designer Bryan Stevenson makes sure we see that set and the players with a complicated lighting design that never looks as difficult as it is.
On the whole, I found this production to be more satisfying than those I have seen in much larger halls by much better-heeled companies. It may be that this show thrives when its funding and space are reduced, just like the down-and-out kids in its story. Because that is certainly the case with this outstanding production.