“To our cast and characters, it’s a sacred site to defend: a place to fight back against that which tries to force you out. A place to gather and to create.” These were the wise words of Director Olivia Martin (COL ‘23) on Nomadic Theatre’s rendition of RENT. The Fall 2022 production sought to ACT UP and fight AIDS, portraying the powerful message of composer Jonathan Larson in its entirety. The performance proved to carry that power, and the time to share that message was no day but today.
RENT is a musical created by late-composer and musical genius Jonathan Larson who wrote about the people he interacted with daily in the East Village of Manhattan in the 1990s. The drug dealers, struggling artists, and exotic dancers doused the streets, working to fight against rent prices and cold weather in hopes of making it one day together. As the Dramaturg detailed it in the Nomadic Playbill:
“It is here we find our young artists in the East Village, left behind, ignored by their government, facing stigma from the general public, and paying thousands of dollars for a medication that might kill them to treat a disease that likely will kill them.”
In essence, RENT attempted to show how the working class finds joy in everyday struggle and survival. Nomadic helped spread that message in a black box on the Hilltop.
We attended a pre-showing of the performance, held in front of a packed crowd of professors, friends, and family. The impressive turnout before tickets were even punched was a surprise, and it foreshadowed the support for Nomadic these performances would welcome. Executive Producer Joseph Ravago (COL ‘23) mentioned that tickets were selling quickly, which aided his excitement for all six of their upcoming performances.
“I am overjoyed. Olivia Martin is one of the most talented people on this campus and has been since her freshman year. Being able to see them direct in our senior year is great,” Ravago said in an interview with the INDY. “Our entire cast and crew are so talented, and I expect everyone that comes to have raving reviews because I know the work and talent everyone has here. And I mean, it's Nomadic; we love Nomadic.”
The cast was wonderfully chosen and showed out in every musical number. Mimi Marquez, played by Bella Carlucci (COL ‘23), is just as outlandish, personal, and intimate as the character was imagined 25 years ago. She stands out in “Out Tonight,” a club-style number about the nightlife of lower Manhattan and all that comes with it. Maureen Johnson, played by Caroline Slater (COL ‘23), is musically gifted, choreographically technical, and a stand-out even when only entering the stage well into the first act. Her impressive solo number, “Over the Moon,” establishes her strong theatrical presence on stage and creative comedic skill. Eddie Ramirez (MSB ‘23) plays Angel Dumott Schunard beautifully and eludes great dueting ability with Tom Collins, played by Isaiah Hodges (SoH ‘26). Ramirez shines in “Today 4 U” with his extensive choreographic ability and perfection in showing the Angel's soft, caring side.
The talent does not end there. Our male leads, Roger—played by Jack Kealy (COL ‘25)—and Mark—played by Will Hammond (SFS ‘23)—could fool you into believing they’re truly brothers and lifelong best friends. Their duet in “What You Own” vocally demonstrates their chemistry and passion. Both Benjamin Coffin III—played by Jordan Ignacio (MSB ‘26)—and Joanne Jefferson—played by Caitlin Frazier (COL ‘23)—are gifted in their own right, with an ability to slay even when playing stern, stable, and “strictly-business” roles.
Finally, the musical ability of the entire ensemble cannot be ignored. The job of performing in almost every number, acting as a stage crew in-between scenes, and having the “all-hats” ability to play many different roles showcases their talent and versatility. Nothing was funnier than when the parents of our lead roles stepped on chairs to make a voicemail message.
Martin explains the feeling all young artists feel as they develop into real-world adults, writing, “I can see myself in every song, every story, every character in RENT.” This portrayal is done wonderfully by the young cast, who show that innocence and awkwardness through themselves.
Every musical is aided in presence by live music. The musical accompaniment, led by music directors Owen Posnett (COL ‘24) and Javon Berman (COL ‘23), perfectly accents the show. Their conducting and talent on the keys appear in almost every song and musical break.
“We, in many ways, represent the sort of patchwork artistic community that this piece posits,” said Martin. “And because of that, I know now what to say that I would not have [before making this show].”
What makes a performance in real life realistic? How realistic can a portrayal of a nineteen-year-old Mimi be by a mid-thirties adult on Broadway? What Nomadic did so well in choosing RENT was their ability to maintain that young aspect that the most remarkable artists couldn’t replicate. It is one thing to sing and dance well. It is another level of performance to feel as though we could be these people, struggling for work and starving together, looking for a place to belong.
Olivia is a junior in the College studying Justice and Peace Studies, Journalism, and Chinese. Anthony is a junior in the SFS studying Culture and Politics, Journalism, and Italian.