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La Vie Boheme Thrives at Jamaica Plain's Footlight Club

"RENT" rocks on opening night! The show runs through April 16.

RENT,The Footlight Club’s current production, opened to a packed house last night. The community theatre’s adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s retro rock opera is a stellar display of talent. Directed by Bill Doscher, the gifted lead characters are supported by an inspired cast, all of whom sung and danced their ways into the avid audience’s heart.

Set in New York’s gritty East Village at the end of the last millennium, “RENT” is the story of an artsy group of down and out friends who are beset by drug addiction and AIDS. The plot is propelled by a trio of romances. Roger (played by Joshua Rajman,) is an aspiring HIV-infected musician, and junkie Mimi (Sara Jane Burns,) whose name and terminal illness is borrowed from Puccini’s La Boheme, discover, lose, and rediscover love. Lesbian lovers Maureen (Anne Olmstead) and Joanne (Shira Cahn-Lipman) struggle to overcome their differences. Tom Collins (Rishi Basu) develops a fatal attraction for doomed drag queen boyfriend Angel (Jose Romero.)   Narrator Mark Cohen (Todd Sandstrom) is a nerdy filmmaker whose desire to document the details of the group’s lives leaves him isolated and alone. Benjamin (Matthew Brendan Ford) is a sell-out, upper class snob who loves money more than friendship.

Rajman’s Roger strikes the right note as a rock guitarist in search of a song. As girlfriend Mimi, Burns was especially sultry, sexy, and seductive in turquoise tights singing her accomplished solo “Out Tonight.”  In the numbers “Santa Fe” and “I’ll Cover You,” the booming baritone of Rishi Basu as Collins received a resounding round of applause. The audience, many of whom seemed familiar with the musical, sang along with Maureen (Anne Olmstead) and Joanne (Shira Cahn-Lipman,) mooing like cows, during the song “Over the Moon.

In some ways, Jose Romero’s flamboyant and over-the-top performance as Angel vied for the best female lead. Vibrant and vulnerable, his death bed scene and subsequent resurrection were some of the most moving parts of the production.  Recalled at his funeral, he posthumously gets one of the best lines in the play, “I'm more of a man than you'll ever be - and more of a woman than you'll ever get.”  But then rare is the occasion when a drag queen doesn’t steal the show.

Compliments should also go to Brian Crete, of , for his creative and atmospheric set design.  The choreography, lighting, and musical accompaniment, were all first rate, too.  Special mention should also go to costume designer Lisa Mosher, who colorfully captured a lost era of leopard prints, Doc Maarten’s, and spandex.

RENT” will be at the until April 16.  Tickets are priced from $19-$24.  Reserve yours today to see this rocking, retro rock opera.

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In collaboration with the Footlight Club’s production of “Rent,” there is a companion art exhibition entitled .  The art show, said exhibitor Nancy Marks, “was specifically created to accompany the Footlight’s show.” Her gritty, New York City-inspired architectural paintings study the urban landscape.

Inspired by “RENT,” co-exhibitor Gail Bos documents the current economic crisis, foreclosures, and the consequences of greed. Her work features distorted portraits of financial gurus Larry Summers, Hank Paulse, and Ben Bernanke.  Katherine Douthit’s evocative work is concerned with economic status, crass consumer culture, and materialism.  There will be a reception for the three artists today at the Footlight Club from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

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