Review: Rent the Musical, A Brave Ambitious Performance in Conservative Alamogordo


Alamogordo Music Theater RENT Review a Must See by

RENT, a Jonathan Larson created youthful musical that started off at the tiny New York Theater Workshop on East Fourth Street, Manhattan, then moved to Broadway and opened at the Nederlander Theater, drew celebrities to its opening such as Billy Joel, David Bowie and Ralph Fiennes just to name a few. From there the play won a Pulitzer, Tony’s and today remains a legendary play recognized and performed around the world.  It is now being performed, locally, by the AMT this weekend and next. 

When I first heard, the Alamogordo Music Theater was tackling this ambitious project I was thrilled, but frankly a bit skeptical.

This play and its controversial theme is being performed locally in a playhouse that is operated by an executive director that has been vocal politically as anti-LBGTQ  and anti-CRT, in a conservative town with over 100 church properties. Could the AMT pull it off?

I asked myself, will they sugar coat the content, will anyone actually show up?

The production and its location was a brave move by Alamogordo Music Theater, which is independent of the Flickinger Center and its board. The AMT has a 60 year history of producing performances that engage, entertain and tantalize the audience. 

RENT, the post-modern, queer, anarchist rock opera revolutionized the boundaries of popular musicals when it first appeared and still raises a few eyebrows today

The local production directed well by Rosie Daffern, delivers, on the show’s infectious youthful exuberance and the shows theme of “love that transcends boundaries, accepts others for who they are, and allows us to cherish the memories of those we have lost.”

Ms. Daffern’s interpretation is not lost on this writer, and her positive influence is felt from beginning to end, and culminated with her passionate thank you, to the audience at the end.

An enthusiastic and large crowd gathered Saturday Night at the Flickinger. The audience was engaged, called out the actors with enthusiasm at times, moo’d enthusiastically at the right time, (more about that later) and gave the cast a lengthy and heartfelt standing ovation at the end.

The production hums with electricity throughout, with surprises from the cast that brought laughter and tears to many in the audience. Not all performances were consistent or refined, but that is to be expected from community theater and adds to its charm. All complimented one another and were equally important to the production. Each actor added the spark necessary to pull off this brave performance. 

Thank you AMT for developing the talent of a top-flight cast, which did indeed pump the theater full of emotional adrenaline, laughter and, yes, at times tears.

The play was written by Johnahan Larson, who tragically died at the age of 35, just a day before the first Off-Broadway performance of Rent. He was posthumously awarded the Pulizter Prize and several Tony Awards for his work on the musical. RENT typically stands beside Tony Kushner’s Angels in America as work that is essential to the American queer canon dealing with AIDS.

The show is known for its Act Two opener, ‘Seasons of Love’ which the local AMT, flashmob sung, at locations around Alamogordo, leading up to the opening. 

A clever teaser and welcome by all. 

The show’s approach to music is eclectic, featuring tango, rock and pop. Writer Larson was not afraid of the surreal, and the show lacks any kind of formulaic structuring that marked the Disney adaptations and Andrew Llyod Webber musicals of the time of its origins.

RENT includes a large comic piece about protest performance art, tame orgy scenes adjacent to death scenes which were refreshing that they were not removed for the Alamogordo audience, and character arcs that are occasionally rushed or almost forgotten. Not the fault of the performance by the local players, but a slight flaw in the script. 

Regardless, the play has aged well and stood the test of modern times, proving particularly useful, as a staging ground for Alamogordo’s musical theater talent, everyone in the cast is typically younger excepting for a few, and it remains an important and emotional piece of art for the audience to savor.

Watching RENT in 2024 lacks the true political punch that writer Jonathan Larson would’ve originally intended via community theater. Watching the show in 2024 also reminds of us how conservative we’ve become.

Larson’s bold experimentation with form queers the very idea of musical theater. Next to it, Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and Come from Away are positively tame and heteronormative. What art or performances now  are going to brave enough to include a ten minute performance art piece about milk and cows in the middle of their first act? 

The show began with disaffected filmmaker Mark portrayed by Tim Wolfson framing the performance as he documents the lives of those around him and struggles with his sense of purpose. He was convincing and the audience felt a connection to his plight.

Zack Miller, as Benjamin Coffin III or Benny, is solid in his role as the antagonist to the neighborhood who sold out and married into a rich family involved with real estate, and he is now their landlord. His alluded to affair with Mimi before she dated Roger showed through well in his performance. He was the character the audience wanted to hate, but warmed up to as he evolved, realizing his friends are more important than what money can buy.

Bradley Oliver, as Roger, the H.I.V.-positive songwriter, had an enhanced radiance that was expected of his role. His shimmering sensuality was ideally complemented by the more shadowy eroticism of Ardrianna Sharp, whose Mimi, gave off a transfixing blend of street swagger and convincing fragility. The couple's moonlit duet, "Light My Candle," and the recurring "I Should Tell You" remain the show's romantic centerpieces and delivered to the audience as one would hope.

Each performer of RENT is given an MVP moment by the script; watching  Ardrianna Sharp as Mimi belt out the song “Out Tonight” was excellent. Mimi and Bradley Oliver’s, Roger’s impassioned “Without You” also earns a loud and entirely deserved, kudos. 

Jordyn Marelich, who plays Maureen, is fearless, electrifying, and the complete package of a chaotic, courageous, life-affirming lesbian that is RENT‘s plum role. Her late entrance in the first act lifts expectations as to what’s next? Her complete surrender to Maureen’s performance art is a piece of comic mastery and her engagement, of the local audience to repeatedly “moo” with her, was magical. 

Joanne, portrayed by Jeanette Borunda, is the lesbian Ivy League educated lawyer and activist. She struggles to not be jealous convincingly of Maureen’s flirtatious nature with others. Though she was raised in an affluent, political family, she is committed to helping those less fortunate.  Borunda’s portrayal showed the empathy and facial expressions to convince the audience of her authenticity. Her tango with Mark, was spot on and a pleasure to watch, as the addition of Tango, into the diverse musical mix, is part of what makes the play a classic. 

Christopher Medina, as Angel, was convincingly and appropriately tender and yet, tragic. Medina’s performance strikes as effortless, but bears all the marks of a master musical theater performer, that is growing in talent. Medina balanced comedy, entertaining vocals and a captivating stage presence. At times Medina, as Angel commanded the scene, with an expressive performance, wigs and costumes that were eclectic, thus the audience felt the heart of Angel shine through.

AMT found a very capable romantic partner in Tyler Hutchins, as Collins. He matches and extends the energy of Angel and keeps it going toward the end of the show, with his tribute to his love of Angel, during his solo in “Goodbye Love.” Many in the audience dripped with teardrops after his performance.

The remaining members of the cast each delivered well in their respective roles.

The theme of life and love with a nod to grief build the show seamlessly, and the energy never dissipates. The audience is never bored. The raw set, of urban decay felt familiar to those of us who used to traipse “the village” in Manhattan, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. The 
 lighting was garishly appropriate for the times. The costumes hip with Angel’s (Christopher Medina) winning for best worn.

In a conservative community that can at time surprise and inspire us, Alamogordo Music Theater is to be commended; as RENT was an ambitious and somewhat risky undertaking in this political climate. 

 Like Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and Sondheim’s “Passion,” RENT  still proves Broadway’s enduring attraction for important work that provokes an emotional response from the audience

Alamogordo Music Theaters brave rendition of RENT reminds our community of our humanity,  and more to the point, of the importance of local community musical theater to joyously showcase the interwoven diversity and the soul of our community. 

Check out the final performances of Rent Sunday at 2pm and then next Friday March 29th and March 30th at 7 pm. 

To learn more about RENT and the AMT visit

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