Rave Review of RENT from Westfield Patch.com

NJYT Rocks the NJPAC
by Danielle Ellliott

The New Jersey Youth Theater rocked the NJPAC on Friday evening, bringing the audience to its feet on opening night of "Rent." To the blind eye, there was no indication this was an amateur performance.

The show is a hybrid of the professional and the student versions of the world-famous Broadway musical. While it is slightly toned-down from the original, it is definitely still geared towards a teen-and-older crowd.

"Rent" debuted on Broadway in 1996, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four Tony Awards, including "Best Musical" that year. The ground-breaking musical chronicles the lives of a group of friends living on Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1980s as they struggle with HIV/AIDS, addiction, homelessness and broken hearts, Through it all, the overriding message is one of hope rather than despair.

Playing the role of Angel, a homosexual, cross-dressing young man, Michael Perez stole the show. He nailed the role, from his introduction to the moment his character dies in his lover's arms and slowly walks into the light, as his friends remember him with short testimonials.

Monica Ban drew the first round of laughter from the crowd. Playing the small role of main character Mark Cohen's mother, she adds humor to an otherwise serious show. The key is in her delivery and spot-on facial expressions.

In the opening number of the second act, Jeanel LeBlanc and Nick Magliocco showed off their incredible vocal prowess as they hit the high notes in "Seasons of Love," perhaps the most famous "Rent" song. LeBlanc nearly drew a standing ovation on the spot.

The entire cast delivers a convincing performance. They breezed right past the few audio glitches, such as when the ensemble orchestra overpowered their voices.

Their youth - the cast is made up of 16 to 23-year-olds - only played to their advantage, as the energy was high throughout the show. The audience joined in several times, clapping to the beat and even moo-ing like cows when prompted during one scene. Everyone in the house seemed to be having a fabulous time.

The performance felt appropriate for middle school and high school students. It is toned down from the Broadway version, but carries all of the lessons associated with the original. It is an educational experience that makes for a conversation-starting family night out.

The show runs in NJPAC's Victoria Theater through July 25th.