This Sunday I went to Les Rent, a musical mashup of the Broadway shows Les Miserables and Rent performed in the Horn Gallery. Les Rent was markedly different from typical theater productions at Kenyon — though, if comparisons must be drawn, I would consider it a cousin to the Kenyon College Player’s annual Rocky Horror performance — and even before the performance, I noticed how lightly the event was advertised. An email was sent out and flyers were posted on the same day announcing its arrival. Despite the lack of publicity, a throng of students showed up to the performance on Sunday evening.
The audience was divided into two groups for the production: One group went to the upper Horn, and I, with the second group, went to the lower Horn. We were to stay put, we were told — the show would come to us. Both groups would get to see Rent and Les Miserables performed but in opposite acts. While Rent was performed in the lower Horn, Les Miserables was performed in the upper Horn during the first act; the two plays then switched and went to the other audience for the second act. As many actors and dancers performed in both musicals, co-collaborators Director Nairi Harumi ’24 and Producer Lily McEnerney ’23 devised a clever way to manage actors’ movement from one performance to another. As characters died in either play, whether in the battle scenes of Les Miserables or from AIDS in Rent, their actors moved to the opposite floor and joined the other performance.
In the lower Horn, the first half of the production was Rent, which follows eight bohemian friends living in the East Village who struggle to pay rent and grapple with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Though most of the actual musical was gutted, the cast performed comedic, albeit silly adaptations of select musical numbers, complete with a cardboard ukulele and plastic roses as props. Cat Mori ’25 and Sam Neilson ’23, playing Angel and Maureen, respectively, both delivered striking dance routines. These dance routines were where the Rent performance excelled especially, given how tremendously talented both Mori and Neilson are. Neilson, in particular, was entertaining; in “Over the Moon,” she swept from audience member to member, gyrating around the stage with great dramatic effect.
In the second half of the production, the musical switched from Rent to Les Miserables. Besides cardboard stencils of window and door frames placed against the back wall to give the effect of a Parisian setting, the set was sparse, like it was for Rent. I really enjoyed this second act — there were several surprises throughout the performance that resulted in an intoxicating hodgepodge of hearty silliness. For example, in “Overture / Work Song,” the rugby team played the convicts, toiling somewhat merrily in the prison. Later, they returned as the Parisian national guard for the battle scenes.
The second surprise was during Fantine’s infamous song, “I Dreamed a Dream.” Played by Ella Newgarden ’25, Fantine is first surrounded by a group of corset- and garter-decked boys playing the “lovely ladies” and is poked and prodded into entering a life of sex work. As Newgarden wanders around the stage in a listless reverie, one of the prostitutes played by Jackson Oberhauser ’24 follows her with a smirk and a pair of scissors. And he does cut her hair. At one point, one of the audience members called out earnestly: “Stop cutting her hair!” After Newgarden’s hair received an enthusiastic trim, she was replaced by Naya Jayaram ’26, who had even shorter hair. Oberhauser took a hair razor to Jayaram’s head, and then the fully shorn Nick Russell ’25 took Jayaram’s place as Fantine — and died. What made the double feature Les Rent especially entertaining to me was that it didn’t take itself too seriously. Whereas some Kenyon dance and drama productions have felt stilted and borderline melodramatic, Les Rent didn’t have any pretentiousness. With only one week of rehearsals preceding the performance, the cast threw itself into ridiculous theatrics, resulting in something that felt collaborative and enjoyable to both the audience and the actors themselves.
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