Thursday, February 15, 2024

Hillbarn stages award-winning 'Rent'

Dedrick Weathersby plays Collins in Hillbarn's "Rent." (Tracy Martin photo)


    “Rent” made a big splash on Broadway in 1996, going on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Musical.

It was seen in San Francisco in 1999, and now it’s at Hillbarn Theatre & Conservatory.

            Jonathan Larson, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, loosely based it on Puccini’s beloved opera, “La Boheme.”

It’s set in the Lower East Side of New York City starting on Christmas Eve in 1989. That’s where Roger (Brandon Leland), a rock guitarist, and Mark (Edward Im), an aspiring filmmaker, share a bare bones apartment.

They can’t afford to pay the rent, and AIDS has cast a pall over them and the entire country.

Their friends include Collins (Dedrick Weathersby), a gay professor; Angel (Jesse Cortez), a drag queen with AIDS; Joanne (Solona Husband) and her partner, Maureen, (Danielle Mendoza); and Mimi (May Ramos), an exotic dancer and drug addict.

Several people in the 14-member cast play multiple roles as the action continues through the year to the following Christmas Eve.

Despite all the accolades it has accumulated over the years, “Rent” can be hard to follow because the plot is somewhat convoluted. Moreover, much of the action is propelled through song, but the lyrics can be difficult to understand because Sheraj Ragoobeer over-amplifies Jeff Mockus’ sound design.

Nevertheless, people who aren’t familiar with the show will be able to get a semblance of what’s happening thanks to a well-chosen, talented, energetic cast and astute direction by Reed Flores.

Musically it’s enjoyable because the actors sing well. Musical director Diana Lee conducts the small, on-stage instrumental ensemble from the keyboard. Dancing also is enjoyable thanks to Gabe Igtanloc’s choreography.

Costumes by Nolan Miranda help to define the characters and era. The set and projections by Hillbarn artistic director Steve Muterspaugh, with lighting by Pamila Gray, do the same.

“Rent” will continue at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, through Feb. 25. For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit