Top 10 Superhero Movies of All Time

It’s time for another Top 10 List from the mind of the Great & Wonderful Big Sexy Superhero Rikki Lee Travolta.

Superhero movies are all the rage. Some are good. Some are bad. But which ones are the best?

For your convenience and consideration, I offer you the Top 10 Superhero Movies of all Time.

10) The Incredibles (2004)

Superheroes got their start as drawn characters in comic books. With modern technology the door is open to all sorts of animated films. One such animated movie, The Incredibles, surpasses many fantastic live-action superhero films.

Although targeted to resonate with children, The Incredibles equally captures the imagination of teens and adults.

In the story, Superheroes have gone into hiding. Mr. Incredible and his Wife Elastigirl are trying their best to pass as normal civilians. Along for the ride are their three children, each of whom also has specialized superpowers.

When the opportunity arises to jump back into action to save the world one more time, The Incredibles take the plunge.

It’s a great script by Brad Bird, who also directs.

9) Spider-Man (2002)

There have been many incarnations of Spider-Man. Marvel is currently on it’s second reboot of the character.

While Tom Holland makes a fantastic Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Avengers: Infinity War, it is Toby Maguire and Kristen Dunst who first brought the Spider-Man legend to screen.

The film shows the origins of the character and how he comes to believe in the mantra “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.”

Plus this Spider-Man movie features one of the greatest cameos of all time in Macho Man Randy Savage playing Bonesaw McGraw.

8) Wonder Woman (2017)

DC Comics has had a rough go of trying to create entertaining films to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Man of Steel, a reboot of Superman, was boring. Batman vs. Superman is probably the worst superhero movie ever made.

However, DC struck cinematic gold with Wonder Woman starring Gal Gadot in the Amazon princess role.

The film provides the story of how Wonder Woman got her powers and why she left her home on the mystical island of Themyscira in an attempt to stop World War I.

Most of the action is flashback, but there is some carryover into the modern world. It was named one of the Top 10 movies of the year by the American Film Institute. As of August 2018 Rotten Tomatoes has listed Wonder Woman as Number 3 on it’s list of “Best Superhero Movies of All Time.”

7) Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

The first two Thor movies were practically unwatchable as they gave an almost Shakespearean feel to the characters without the storytelling skills of the Bard. The dialog is stiff, as are the performances.

However, with the third installment in the Thor film franchise, the producers created a truly great film by infusing the story with comedy. Who would suspect the mighty God of Thunder could get laughs?

In addition to the title character, Thor: Ragnarok imports Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange for added action and comedy.

I always suspected Chris Hemsworth could be a great Thor. It just took until the third movie to happen.

6) The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Lloyd Kaufman, the mastermind behind low budget shlock film production company Troma Entertainment, managed to step out of the dark recesses of the film universe reserved for B-movies.

The Toxic Avenger was well received in theaters and spawned multiple sequels and even a Off Broadway musical.

Described as a “superhero comedy splatter film.” The dialog is campy, the special effects are cheesy, the makeup is hilarious, and the many many displays of violence are comical.

Even today, The Toxic Avenger stands out as a fantastic outside the norm superhero film.

5) Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

In the last two decades, Marvel has worked its way into being the premier source of superhero films. They’ve released single-focus films like Iron Man and Captain America, but the films really started to swell in popularity when multiple heroes were featured.

Infinity War is the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is very dark by Avenger’s standards, and that is part of what makes it so good. I have the utmost respect for screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for fitting all the characters into one film with a high profile villain (Thanos).

I think what I liked most about the film is that it isn’t a happy-go-lucky, the good guys always win formula piece. Without revealing any spoilers, the ending totally throws the Marvel universe into chaos, setting the stage for Avengers: Endgame.

4) Superman (1978)

Superman is the standard by which all superheroes are judged. There have been multiple incarnations of the Superman character in both film and television.

The first instance of Superman on film came in the 1948 serial Superman and the 1950 serial Atom Man vs. Superman, starring Kirk Alyn. Then there was the famous black and white television series The Adventures of Superman featuring George Reeves as the man of steel.

There have been so many incarnations of Superman that you can somewhat define pivotal moments in life by which movie or television series portrayal they most identify with.

For me the Superman actor I put on the highest pedestal is Christopher Reeve who played Superman in the movies from 1978-1987. Interestingly, to achieve his Superman physique, Reeve was trained by British weightlifting champion David Prowse who would go on to bring the body of Darth Vader to the initial Star Wars Trilogy (although the character was voiced by James Earl Jones).

Reeve’s first appearance as the superhero was the simply titled Superman in 1978. I was just a kid and this tall, handsome, super human with a heart of gold and bulletproof skin I saw on screen amazed me. I had loved the George Reeves television show, but nothing had prepared me for the powerful ultimate good guy Reeve brought to the screen in the film from Richard Donner.

3) Condorman (1981 )

Condorman was the movie that defined me as a child. It was a corny Disney live action flick about a comic book writer who is drafted into service to become his main character ‘Condorman’ with the aid of the CIA and help a Russian spy defect to the U.S.

Seeing it years later as an adult, I realize how campy the film is. But it was just the right amount of campy as to touch the heart of a kid who lived vicariously through his comic book heroes. It doesn’t hurt that the film starred a young Michael Crawford before mesmerizing the world with his voice in Phantom of the Opera.

2) The Crow (1994)

The Crow is a cult favorite adaptation of a lesser known superhero – dark, mysterious, sacred, and raw. The picture became shrouded in mystery when star Brandon Lee was killed on the set during filming. Lee was the son of legendary martial arts movie star Bruce Lee, who also died in a mishap on a film sound stage. Although Brandon Lee had done some smaller roles in a few forgettable movies, The Crow was to be his breakthrough performance – and it was. He just didn’t get to see it happen.

After Lee was killed on set by a faulty prop gun, the film makers had to figure out how to tell a story with the footage they had on hand. So the film was re-scripted and re-cut. The result was a masterpiece. It spawned a slew of terrible to tolerable sequels (the least bad being The Crow: Wicked Prayer starring Edward Furlong, David Boreanaz, Dennis Hopper, and Danny Trejo released in 2005). But there is no taking away the brilliance of the original.

Brandon Lee did what defines a legend: he went out at the peak of his career, leaving us wanting more.

1) Logan (2017)

I collected comic books for most of my younger days. I inherited a collection from my uncle and then built it from there. Thanks to my uncle’s donation to my collection, I was exposed to a wide variety of comic books – not just the familiar ones that I already knew I liked. It was eye-opening. Many of my all time favorites came from sorting through the collection my uncle gifted me.

But between my uncle’s interests and my interests, I never really fell in love with Marvel’s X-Men in comic book format. A million years later when they announced that there would be an X-Men movie, I wasn’t all that interested. But I saw the movie and liked it – primarily because of the performance of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Logan is the Wolverine’s requiem. It brilliantly brings closure to the stories of both Logan and Professor Xavier. Closure is the key word to the film’s brilliance. The stories have become finite.

Sure they will probably re-boot the X-Men and start the stories all over again. But, this movie – Logan – is the closure for this X-Men Universe.

It’s a dark story that shows Logan the character as severely flawed, but always ultimately sacrificing for others. The fine performances of Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart drive a well-scripted, well-directed, well-acted movie that I can easily say is my favorite superhero story of all time.

Peace. Love. Trust.

 

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Hilarious ‘Nunsense’ a Little Slice of Comedic Heaven

In the right hands, Nunsense is a side-splitting comedy that can win over audiences of all ages.

The plot is the first clue that the audience is in for a trip through the bizarre. The production is a talent show given by five survivors of the Little Sisters of Hoboken nunnery after the rest of the sisterhood succumb to botulism from eating vichyssoise prepared by Sister Julia, Child of God. The talent show is to raise enough money to bury the deceased.

Featuring a book, music, and lyrics by Dan Goggin, Nunsense opened Off-Broadway in 1985 and went on to become the second longest running Off-Broadway show in history.

Now playing at the Woodstock Opera House through April 14, Woodstock Musical Theatre Company’s mounting of Nunsense is nothing short of spectacular.

Featuring highly adept direction from Barry R. Norton, Nunsense is well paced. There is never a moment in which the audience is not being entertained in some fashion. Norton is highly respected for always providing this level of top-notch entertainment in every production he helms.

Music Director Rosemarie Liotine-Aiello has the cast singing beautiful harmonies in the group numbers and blasting down the house with energetic solo songs. Her on-stage band featuring Barb Klein, Karen Stein, Brian Anderson, Charlie Sommers, and Dave Byers is brilliant – always complimenting the singers and never over powering them.

You don’t typically think of Nunsense as a big dance show, I mean we are talking about nuns here. However, Karen Smith’s choreography truly shines. From ballet to tap to jazz, the dancing really works to flatter the strengths of the performers.

Nunsense features a very small on-stage cast, so deficiencies by any one member of the troupe would be glaring. Thankfully all the nuns are up to the challenge.

As Mother Superior, Pamela Jones is stoned faced and rigid until an incident with confiscated contraband from one of the students at the Sister’s Mt. Saint Helen’s School at the end of Act 1. At that point she unleashes a comedic monologue that has the audience in stitches.

Sister Mary Hubert is second in command to the Mother Superior. Played by Kristin Lundine, Sister Hubert is a comedic delight. Lundine seems to channel the spirit of Groucho Marx for her comedic timing and ability to set up a punchline. Her vocal belt is equally as strong. And her facial expressions? To die for!

The youngest nun in the bunch is a novice by the name of Mary Leo, who not-so-secretly longs to be the world’s first nun ballerina.  In the role, Angelina Straus provides a feisty take on the character with equal touches of ‘sweet and innocent’ and ‘look out world, here I come.’ Her voice is beautiful and displays a wide range of versatility.

Emily Robles is outrageously funny as Sister Mary Amnesia. As the name suggests, her story is a simple one. Nun shows up at nunnery….Crucifix falls on her head…She has complete amnesia, not even knowing her own name. With her deer-in-the-headlights expression Robles is able to get the audience erupting in laughter with the power of one little glance. She too displays an amazing mastery of a wide range of vocal styles.

Elaine Cashmore brings down the house with her rowdy interpretation of Sister Robert Anne, the resident rebel among the nuns. Every bit as funny as Melissa McCarthy, Cashmore is a streetwise nun with a devilish streak for pranks. Her Brooklyn accent and East Coast attitude are worth the price of admission. She gives her character an attitude that seems to say ‘I’m gonna get into some trouble – and you’re coming along for the ride.” This makes her an audience favorite right from the start.

If you are in the McHenry County area, you would be hard pressed to find a better local production at this time of year than WMTC’s Nunsense. If you’re outside the immediate vicinity, be assured that Woodstock is an enticing place to visit. Come for a weekend. Take in the show and then take in the town.

Nunsense plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through April 14 at the Woodstock Opera House (121 W. Van Buren Street, Woodstock). Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 PM; Sunday performances are at 2 PM. For ticket information contact the Box Office at (815) 338-5300 or www.WoodstockOperaHouse.com.

Peace. Love. Trust.

The Legend of Jerry Lee Lewis

I recently saw an amazing stage production of Million Dollar Quartet, which gives a fictionalized account of the night Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all jammed together at Sun Records in 1956.

The gentleman playing Jerry Lee Lewis, Nat Zegree, was awe-inspiring in his performance…absolutely breath taking.

This prompted me to want to revisit the 1989 film Great Balls of Fire! for a more in-depth look at the life of “The Killer”.

The film stars Dennis Quaid as Lewis and Winona Rider as his 13-year old cousin/bride Myra Gail Brown.

I now realize why I haven’t been tempted to revisit the movie since seeing it in the theater in 1989. It is truly awful.

The film is based on the biography of Myra Lewis, Jerry Lee Lewis’ child bride. However, she has denounced the film for being historically inaccurate. In her book, Myra paints Jerry Lee as a dangerous man who has had two of his seven wives die in unusual circumstances. In the film he is more like a harmless comic book character.

Director Jim McBride admitted he never intended to offer an authentic view of Jerry Lee Lewis, preferring instead to employ Jerry Lee as a consultant on the film and creating a white washed romantic comedy.

Rider actually does do a great job as Myra. In fact, most of the actors turn in fine performances. However, it is Quaid the ruins the movie.

Let me be clear, I am a Dennis Quaid fan. So, it pains me to criticize his performance. But there is just no way around the fact that his cartoonish over acting ruins the film.

This portrayal might have worked if the rest of the cast also played their characters as cartoons. But with Quaid the only one chewing the scenery, the stark contrast in acting approaches is obvious.

I would love to see a movie about Jerry Lee Lewis that sticks closer to the facts of his troublesome life. I hope that when a producer eventually decides to make a new and accurate movie about The Killer, they won’t make the mistake of just doing a remake of Great Balls of Fire.

Lewis was a great musician in his time, but he was no hero when it comes to how he treated other.

I invite you to listen to some of Lewis’ early recordings like Whole Lotta Shaking Going On, Great Balls of Fire, and High School Confidential. But when it comes to the Dennis Quaid movie, you can do without.

Peace. Love. Trust.

‘Mr. Burns’ Delights Audiences with a Symphony of the Absurd

The Black Box Theatre at McHenry County College is presenting Mr. Burns – A Post Electric Play by Anne Washburn through March 23.

Directed by Jay Geller, Mr. Burns is a play in three acts. It could best be described as experimental theater on acid.

Act 1 is dramatic – taking place in the direct aftermath of all U.S. nuclear power plants being destroyed, leading in turn to the collapse of the electrical grid. The players are a band of survivors who rely on pen and paper and reenactments of pop culture to entertain themselves. A particular favorite of the group is to recite episodes from the television show The Simpsons.

This leads to the underlying story element of the play – how stories evolve over time, taking on new meaning with each new telling.

Act 2 takes place seven years later, at a time when the survivors take to staged reenactments of Simpsons episodes. They are not the only ones. The entire society values these staged live versions of The Simpsons as different groups emerge to compete with one another.

In the current society, the players buy comedic lines from those who remember them from the original Simpsons episodes. Lithium batteries and Diet Coke are the currency of the day. At this point the show becomes a play with music, offering a smattering of songs amidst the dialog.

Act 3 takes place 75 years later. Now the show is a full blown sung-through musical of a specific episode of The Simpsons, with the characters and lines heavily bastardized through years of word of mouth transference.

If this sounds confusing, it is to a degree. But the fine acting of the troupe of players and the excellent direction powers through the compelling story. Geller is assisted in the direction of Mr. Burns by Music Director Katie Meyers, Choreographer Maggie McCord, Stage Manager Kathryn A. McCord, and Assistant Director Leslie Mueller.

The players all turn in stellar performances. The cast includes Jackson Nielsen, Avery Harvey, Derrick Wilson, Rachel Schneider, Gianah Tomczak, Joel Bennett, Charlie Sommer, and Spencer Alvarez.

Joel Bennett stands out throughout the show. His comedic skills are par none, providing not only laughs for his characters, but also setting up his fellow performers for laughs as well. Bennett’s characterization of Mr. Burns in the final act is worth the price of admission alone.

Of course Bennett is far from a one-man show. The entire cast is fantastic.

As splendid as the actors are in this fine production, shout outs must go out to Costume Designer Kathy Bruhnke and Assistant Costume Designer Kristi Geggie; Set Designer Thomas Kesling; Lighting Designer Rick Amudsen and Lighting Assistant Maxwell Robey; and Technical Directors Susanne Powell and Kent Wilson.

You have to come into the show with an open mind. If you do, you’ll have a delightful evening of entertainment.

Mr. Burns – A Post Electric Play plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7 PM through March 23.  The Black Box Theatre is located in Building E at McHenry County College (8900 U.S. Highway 14, Crystal Lake, IL 60012). For ticket information contact jgeller@mchenry.edu or (815) 455-8746.

Peace. Love. Trust.

2019 Oscar Predictions

The 2019 Oscars take place Sunday, February 24, 2019.

What kind of self-respecting entertainment curiosity would I be if I didn’t offer my thoughts on this year’s awards?

So here goes – what I think will happen, and for added seasoning, what I think should happen. Sometimes they aren’t the same thing.

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Competition in the Best Actor in a Leading Role category is probably the hardest to predict.

The nominees are Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born), William Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), and Viggo Mortensen (Green Book).

While I enjoyed all these actors in their roles, I think the award will come down to either Christian Bale or Viggo Mortensen. I’m rooting for Mortensen. Both he and Bale changed their appearance dramatically for their roles. However, Bale has won an Oscar before; Viggo has not.  Will the sympathy vote go to Viggo? Also to consider is that Green Book is a far better movie than Vice. However, I think ultimately the Academy is going to go with Bale.

Who Should Win: Viggo Mortensen

Who Will Win: Christian Bale

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The nominees are Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Adam Driver (BlacKKKlansman), Sam Elliott (A Star is Born), Richard Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Sam Rockwell (Vice).

This really comes down to a three-man race between Ali, Elliott, and Rockwell. All three stood out in their respective films, but the one who captured their character absolutely perfect without error is Rockwell. However, I think in this case the sympathy vote is going to come into play and Elliott will walk home with the Oscar.

Who Should Win: Sam Rockwell

Who Will Win: Sam Elliott

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

The nominees are Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

While I don’t mind Lady Gaga’s music and tabloid exploits, I would not consider myself a huge fan. With that said, her acting debut blew me away…and I think the Academy will agree.

Who Should Win: Lady Gaga

Who Will Win: Lady Gaga

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The nominees are Amy Adams (Vice), Marina De Tavira (Roma), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite), and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

I’ve never been a big Amy Adams fan. I’ve always found her harmless at best. But I will tell you, she shined like a big bright star in the sky in terms of her performance in Vice. Hands down the best supporting performance of the year.

Who Should Win: Amy Adams

Who Will Win: Amy Adams

BEST DIRECTOR

The nominees are Spike Lee (BlacKKKlansman), Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Alfonso Cuaron (Roma), and Adam McKay (Vice).

Unfortunately the actual Best Director isn’t even nominated. My vote goes to Bradley Cooper for a remarkably well-done movie in A Star is Born.

Who Should Win: Bradley Cooper

Who Will Win: Yorgos Lanthimos

BEST PICTURE

The nominees are Black Panther, BlacKKKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star is Born, and Vice.

I enjoyed Black Panther as much as any other Marvel movie, but it is in no way, shape, or form deserving of a Best Picture Oscar.

I’ve been a fan of Spike Lee since School Daze. BlacKKKlansman was interesting and well-done, but again, no Oscar material.

Bohemian Rhapsody had the most possibility of being a Best Picture, but the film ended up being rather sterilized. A good film, but not great.

Vice may have had the best hair and makeup, but it’s not a Best Picture.

It didn’t care much for either The Favourite or Roma.

That leaves Green Book and A Star is Born. In a more heated contest with stiffer competition, I doubt Green Book would win, but things being as they are, I think it will edge out A Star is Born.

Who Should Win: A Star is Born

Who Will Win: Green Book

And there you have it…the winners and should-be-winners of the 2019 Academy Awards as analyzed by the Great & Wonderful Rikki Lee.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Murder’s Afoot in Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ Now Playing in Arlington Heights

Agatha Christie’s murder mystery The Mousetrap opened in London’s West End in 1952 and has been running continuously since that date, making it the longest running play in history.

The play actually had its origins in a 1947 radio play entitled Three Blind Mice. The stage play was retitled The Mousetrap before its West End opening due to another famous play entitled Three Blind Mice that had run prior to World War II.

The premise is basic – a group of strangers are stranded in a newly opened guesthouse due to fierce winter conditions. Over the radio, they learn of a nearby murder. Soon a police sergeant arrives (on skis) to question the guests. All action takes place in the U.K. countryside.

Now playing at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, The Mousetrap has lost none of the charm that made it famous.

Emma Baker and David Moreland play the young married couple Molllie and Giles Ralston who own the guesthouse where the action takes place. They both provide memorable performances.

The first guest to arrive is Christopher Wren, a hyperactive yet diminutive young man of 22 played very effectively by Colin Lawrence.

Mrs. Boyle, a bitter older woman played excellently by Julie Partyka, and an aloof retired army officer Major Metcalf played by Rian Jairell arrive next in a shared taxi.

Kate Incardona plays Miss Casewell, a sexually charged stranger who speaks often of her troubled childhood. Wrapping up the guest list is Guy Wicke as an odd foreigner by the name of Mr. Paravicini.

The last to arrive to the scene is Detective Sergeant Trotter played by Mac Westcott. And then the detective work begins.

The who done it keeps the audience guessing throughout the night of entertainment. While Lawrence and Wicke are the strongest actors in the bunch, the entire ensemble works well together to deliver a very enjoyable production.

The play is directed by Joe Lehman who had done an excellent job moving the chess pieces about the board throughout the night.

Dialect coach Saren Nofs Snyder has helped sculpt a living piece of art.

Scenic design by Jeremy Hollis is brought to life by master carpenter Stan Hicks.

The Mousetrap plays Thursdays through Sundays through March 16at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre located at 111 West Campbell Street in beautiful Arlington Heights. Evening performances start at 7:30 PM, Saturday and Sunday matinees start at 3:00 PM. There are select Wednesday showings at 1:00 PM.

There is ample free parking on the street and in a public garage behind the theater.

For a full schedule of dates and for ticket information visit MetroplisArts.com or call the box office at (847) 577-2121.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Fox Creates Something New with RENT Live

When FOX aired Grease Live in 2016, I was offended that it was a scene-for-scene imitation of the 1978 John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John film. The Broadway show is a different animal than the film, and I was hoping that Grease Live would forge new ground by capturing the elements left out of 1978 film that make the Broadway show so good.

Fast forward to 2019 and FOX airs RENT Live. We already had the 2005 Christopher Columbus film featuring most of the original Broadway cast. We also had RENT – Filmed Live on Broadway, providing a true reflection of the magic of the stage version.

The anticipation for what version of Rent we would be seeing on FOX built right up until the program aired.

RENT Live is its own animal. It didn’t mimic the stage show. It didn’t mimic the theatrical movie. It was an entity all by itself and that I applaud and will highly recommend grabbing the DVD or Blu-ray when it comes out.

The story is loosely based on the opera La Boheme. It focuses on a group of young starving artists who exist as squatters, while many are trying to find out how to live with AIDs.

Among the fresh aspects of the television event is the remarkable set. The set is what amounts to a whole city block for New York’s Alphabet City. There are multiple building and sidewalks. It is an entire RENT city.

That’s when I realized I would be remiss if I was to compare RENT Live to any of the other versions. Interestingly enough the director for RENT Live was Michael Grief, the man who directed the original Broadway production. His co-director Alex Rudzinski played a pivotal part in both Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert and Grease Live

Jordan Fisher is an interesting choice to play Mark – the would-be journalist who documents the story of his closest friends living with HIV. The role is scripted as a bookish Jewish young man. Jordan Fisher is black. Despite the fact that I have never personally met a black Jew, they certainly do exist, so I didn’t let that aspect of the casting hold me up from liking Fisher.

Fisher does an excellent job in the role. He has a personable personality, and a fine singing voice. Most impressive with his delivery is that he sang the role as written. Many of the other cast spent too much time doing unneeded riffs in their delivery.

My only complaint about Fisher is his age. Fisher appears to be in his late teens or early twenties. By contrast, his best friend and roommate Roger (played by Brennin Hunt) looks to be in his mid-thirties, and his ex-girlfriend Maureen (played by Vanessa Hudgens) also appears to be in her thirties.

Hunt’s Roger is a brooding rebel would-be rock star. Hunt is a good singer and a great guitar player, but I thought his take on the character was too one dimensional – either angry or angrier. Not much in else.

As Tom Collins, a quirky adjunct college professor who offers teaching such as Actual Reality, Brandon Victor Dixon does a stellar job. The real test for this role is the delivery of the reprise of I’ll Cover You, and Dixon passes that test with nary a dry eye in the audience.

The villain of the story is Benjamin Coffin III. He lived with Roger and Mark in poverty, but when he got lucky and married into wealth, he becomes a clear Republican obsessed with money and uncaring about people. R&B singer Mario is very effective in the role.

Also crossing platforms from the world of R&B music to the Rent stage is Tinashe, who fills the role of Mimi Marquez a young exotic dancer who becomes Roger’s girlfriend.

The only really bad casting was that of Valentina as Angel Dumott Schunard. Despite being a drag queen herself as documented on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Valentina is too old for the role, and sang it miserably. The only excuse for singing that bad in a show with a budget as big as Rent Live would be if it turned out the singer had laryngitis….and even then you’d wonder why they didn’t send in the understudy.

The supporting role of street performer and protest stager Maureen is Rent Live’s big-name celebrity – Vanessa Hudgens. The role is an unforgiving one, as it must deliver the song Over the Moon. Jonathan Larson was a great composer, but not every song is going to be great. There were a great number of songs in the original workshop performances that did not make it into the final version to premier on Broadway. I think if Larson had not died before Rent made it to Broadway, this would be the one song that probably would have been rewritten or replaced.

So how does Hudgens fair? She did the best she could with the role. Her take was to be sinfully playful and oblivious to her own short comings. It’s not the choice many actresses have made in the past with the role, but it works for Hudgens. She is always a joy to see perform. I think she is simply fantastic.

As Maureen’s girlfriend Joanne, Kiersey Clemons is every bit the role. As Joanne, she isn’t as attractive as some others so she gets insanely jealous when she sees Maureen flirting with more beautiful girls. Yet in terms of determination and intelligence, Joanne is the smartest of the bunch. Clemons portrays these subtleties of the character brilliantly.

Overall, I really enjoyed the live television event.

Heck, they even found a way to slip Keala Settle into the ensemble – a true treat! I fell in love with Settle’s powerful and expressive voice when I first saw her in the movie The Greatest Showman.

The way the creative staff and cast accomplished creating something new makes seeing RENT Live worth it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, I give RENT Live a 7.75.

Peace. Love. Trust.