Romance, heartbreak & music

It’s no secret how difficult it can be to pull off a successful musical. With so many aspects to take into consideration such as choreography, singing and on-stage chemistry, everything must be near perfect to captivate the audience.

The Pierce College Theatre cast and crew did just that. “Rentis a musical performance that is absolutely worth attending, and it would be an ideal for newcomers–at least ones old enough to handle the subject matter.


Directed by Shaheen Vaaz and choreographed by Brian Moe, the 1994 musical by Jonathan Larson is running through May 14 at the Performing Arts Mainstage.

The performance begins by introducing the setting. It’s the late 1980s in East New York. Poverty is a well known struggle for many young people, and the AIDS epidemic is at its peak. At this point, we still didn’t have medicine that would help those with AIDS continue to live. Getting the disease during this time is essentially a death sentence.

We meet Mark (Dale Van Slyke), an independent filmmaker, who struggles to make ends meet.

Mark introduces some of the main characters including his roommate, musician Roger (Kevin Boecher). Together they live in poverty in the East Village of New York.

Roger is a recovering heroin addict, who contracted AIDS from sharing needles.

As the production moves forward, we’re introduced to Tom (Aro Caitlin) and Angel (Aaron Revilla). Angel is a street drummer and a drag queen. Tom and Angel learn that they both have the HIV virus, which frequently leads to AIDS. Throughout the musical, Tom and Angel fall in love.

The on stage chemistry between this couple is incredible. The passion Caitlin and Revilla  show through their romance feels authentic, and there is underlying sadness knowing their inevitable fate with HIV.

Another important couple to follow throughout the story is Roger and Mimi (Emelysse Paez). Mimi performs as an exotic dancer to support herself. She also has AIDS and is a drug addict, similar to Roger. 

The dynamic between these two is fascinating. Paez’s vocal performance in “Light My Candle” alone is worth the admission to this play. 

Mimi and Roger frequently sing the line “I Should Tell You,” implying that they want to tell each other their life struggles with AIDS, but are scared of the recipient’s reaction.

We’re then introduced to Benny (Emmanuel Odaibo), who bought the building where the characters live, and which he plans to turn into a studio after evicting them. 

Odaibo does an excellent job portraying the antagonist throughout the production. He made it easy to hate someone that is trying to take the homes of others for selfish intent.

Their performances feel sincere. The skillset it takes to convey a genuine love connection on stage is executed perfectly by these actors.

Joanne (Kaitlyn Foley) and Maureen (Michelle Johnson) were also an important couple throughout the production. They’re a couple that struggles financially in this poverty stricken portion of New York.

Johnson’s confidence on stage is a spectacle. Joanne speaks early on in the performance about how crazy her partner is, and Johnson executes this perfectly.

When a character gives warning to the audience that someone crazy is about to come on stage, it’s crucial for that character to deliver. Johnson does a fantastic job playing this role.

Aside from the outstanding production regarding cast and crew, the on stage band is also worth noting. Ryan Espinosa conducts, Zev Malmeth (keyboard I), Asher Levich (guitar I), Adrian Clark (guitar II/keyboard II, Pablo Sela (bass), and Christian Ramirez (drums), which makes the performances all the more immersive. The ability to keep up with the show and include sound effects is impressive to watch. 

Even if someone has never been interested in theater before, Pierce College’s production of “Rent” will leave them wanting more.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call 818-719-6488. Tickets may also be purchased at the theater’s concession stand or online (24/7) at: