As the play, movingly directed by Pamela Seiderman, opens on Michael Hetzer's handsome antique set at Hofstra, we find an assimilated Jewish family decorating a Christmas tree. Only when daughter Lala (Molly Bier) tops the "Hanukkah bush" with a star does her mom, Boo, played with a frosty bite by Karen Rowan, object. Her affably wacky sister-in-law Reba (Ginger Dalton) rarely objects to anything. Boo's brother, Adolph (agreeable Dan Odell), the breadwinning head of a bedding company, knows better than to cross the women who share his home.
Adolph has brought a guest. Joe, the "other kind" as Boo says later - a Jew of Eastern European descent - who is offended by the tree but politely stifles his opinion. Earnestly played by Brian Gill, Joe is Adolph's new hire. When Adolph sends him north on business, he asks Joe to check on his other niece, aptly named Sunny (Christina Corsaro), who's taking a train home from college.
Ballyhoo, a cotillion for a certain class of Jews, is the big social event over the holidays. Sunny claims she could care less until Joe, seeking any excuse to date her, asks her to Ballyhoo. Lala settles for Peachy (Joe Hoffman), a prankster redhead of "our kind." Peachy's careless remark spoils the evening, but causes Sunny to question the nonobservance of her religious heritage. You're unlikely to hear a more meaningful Shabbat shalom on any stage.
Music pays the 'rent'
At Theatre Three, "Rent" is all about the music.
Jonathan Larson's tale is familiar by now, loosely based on Puccini's "La Bohème," centering around filmmaker Mark (Jim Sluder) and rock musician Roger (Danny Amy). Penniless, they can't pay the rent for their Alphabet City apartment, where Roger meets and falls for drug-addicted Mimi (Brittany Lacey), who, like him, is HIV positive. A friend (Dewayne Queen-Jackson) is mugged outside their building. A transvestite (Jose Torres) comes to his rescue and they, too, fall in love. Meanwhile, Mark's love life is in shambles as beautiful Maureen (Emily Prochnicki) has left him for Joanne (Angela Retequiz).
As co-directed by Jeffrey Sanzel and choreographer Edward Carignan, the exuberant ensemble numbers, particularly "There's Only Today" and "Seasons of Love," carry the show through rough patches in accommodating the 15 players on a narrow stage, plus an odd casting choice. (Sluder delivers, as usual, but it's a stretch to count him as part of the youth culture.)
In this "Rent," it's the rocking band, led by Kevin Story, that pays off.