Male actors outshine females during performance

“The Goodrich Lobby of E.J. Thomas Hall was transformed into a colorful and graphic representation of downtown New York last Thursday to celebrate the three performances of RENT on Friday and Saturday. Voices of the City, An Urban Painting and Multimedia Installation utilized highly experimental heroic-scale paintings, original artists’ videos, photography and neo-primitive animated digital projections.”

The Goodrich Lobby of E.J. Thomas Hall was transformed into a colorful and graphic representation of downtown New York last Thursday to celebrate the three performances of RENT on Friday and Saturday.

Voices of the City, An Urban Painting and Multimedia Installation utilized highly experimental heroic-scale paintings, original artists’ videos, photography and neo-primitive animated digital projections.

Mark Soppeland, a painting and drawing instructor at the University of Akron, led the project.

It’s the biggest art installation with which I have ever been involved, Soppeland said. Some amazing people are working on this. It is totally out of control – so much paint, energy and original vision. It’s the artistic equivalent of discovering a wild new neighborhood.

Soppeland has been involved with more than 50 public projects during his career. He said his main goals for the collaboration were to enhance the experience of RENT, create more outreach activities for E.J. Thomas and utilize the opportunity for new direction.

The multimedia installation tapped the talents of many artists ranging from freshman graphic design major J.D. Dumire to senior interdisciplinary studies major Dustin Grella to alumni Laura Bidwell, who is currently the curator for Summit Art Space.

The art exhibit was a precursor to the weekend series of RENT performances.

The opening night crowd was abuzz with energy, and the multimedia installation helped to set the stage for the quintessential New York musical. The cast was certainly talented as well. Harley Jay, who played Mark Cohen, seemed to magically morph into Mark on stage. Although he had broken a finger during the previous evening’s performance, nothing seemed to slow him down.

Jay single-handedly controlled the pacing of the play, only being challenged as the star by Declan Bennett (Roger). In a musical dominated by several love stories, it was surprising that the male actors outshone the female leads. Taken as a group, Harley Jay (Mark), Declan Bennett (Roger) and Melvin Bell III (Angel) were more charismatic than their female counterparts.

Harley Jay overshadowed Chante Carmel Frierson (Joanne) in combined musical numbers, especially The Tango Maureen. Although their singing and acting abilities were on par with the male leads, some of the women were trying too hard.

The one female that competed with the male trio of Jay, Bennett and Bell was Jennifer Colby Talton, who played Mimi.

The cast of the National Tour of RENT delighted the audience, as evidenced by the flashbulbs at the beginning of the second act when the cast lined the stage to sing Seasons of Love.

After the show, many audience members gave the cast a standing ovation, while die-hard fans rushed to the stage door in the hopes of getting an autograph and photo opportunities with their favorite characters.