North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre
Lead Mine Road, Raleigh
Through May 16

North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre has been pulling itself up by its own artistic bootstraps over the past couple of seasons, taking on projects that once were well above the weight class of a modest community theater. I’m pleased to note that transformation continues with its current production of RENT, whose popularity has resulted in a week-long extension of this production.

Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer-winning 1994 script documents cultural flux among a struggling group of downtown New York creatives in the 1980s. It’s never easy making it as an artist in the Big Apple, but that decade posed uniqueand life-threateningchallenges. Gentrification was already making living conditions precarious for the poor. Then came the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in 1981.

Under Shane Dittmar’s music direction, a 15-actor ensemble was rock-solid on the moving solo and choral sequences. The only musical misstep was the canned accompaniment for “Today for You.” On the acting side, strong work from Dusty Thomas as Mark, the filmmaker who is fated to document the triumphs and dissolution of his community; Waylin Owsley as an angelic Angel; and Destiny McNeill as Mimi formed the emotional core. But despite his golden voice, Robert Lang never found the darkness and anger in Roger, the HIV-positive guitarist seeking one blaze of glory in song before he dies.

The company found true poignancy in “Support Group” and “Will I,” while Lang and McNeill tugged at our emotions in “Without You” and “Goodbye Love.” Andrea Twiss and Tyanna West squared off for a convincing relationship ultimatum, “Take Me Or Leave Me.” Dempsey Bond and Nekeyeta Newkirk ably anchored the famous “Seasons of Love,” after the ensemble energized the title song and the anarchic anthem “La Vie Boheme.” Director David Henderson’s expeditious staging faltered only in a relatively flat rendition of “What You Own.”

In all, this production’s achievements were well worth the rentthe price of the ticket and the time we spent.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Lose yourself”