Twenty-one years ago, in 1964, Jonathan Larson changed the course of the Broadway musical with Rent, based off of Puccini’s La Bohème. The Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning rock musical/world-changer/masterpiece follows the life of seven artists struggling to maintain and balance their personal, artistic, and economic lives while they learn the importance of love and spontaneity. Set in the east village of New York during the AIDS epidemic and of the 1980’s, Rent showcases, specifically, the struggles and tribulations of being gay.
Leading the story is Danny Harris who plays the role of Mark, an aspiring filmmaker struggling to pay his rent as Benny, played by Christian Thompson, attempts to evict both himself and his roommate, Rodger, played by Kaleb Wells. Danny’s explosive energy and crystal clear vocals echoed over the audience as the orchestra, led by Tim Wiel, hit their first note. Contrasting the extremely external energy of Danny, was Kaleb, who’s body and voice seemed timid, hesitant, and short tempered. However, this approach to the role of Rodger was very effective as Rodger is a struggling songwriter, constantly changing his mind. An example of Kaleb’s short tempered and hesitant portrayal is during the number “Another Day”, when Mimi, played by Skyler Volpe, yanks Rodgers guitar out of his hand and begs him to escape with her. Skyler’s attempts to gain Rodgers affection through song were varied, which drew me into the role. While Skyler’s voice met the demands of the rock score, it didn't quite meet the expectations I had coming into the theatre, having seen Reńee Elise Goldsberry in the Broadway film version. Arguably, the best duo was Katie Lamark, who played Maureen, and Alexis Young, who was the understudy for Joanne at the Sunday matinee. Both women gave powerhouse performances during “Take Me or Leave Me” and held strong comedic timing throughout. Timothy McNeill, who understudies the role of Angel, lacked the spunk and fierce energy of the Angel we have all come to love. While his voice was great, his acting and physical appearance just aren’t fit for the role of Angel. This is unfortunate, as Aaron Harrington, who played Tom, was uncomparably more empathic towards Timothy. Alia Hodge as the “Seasons of Love” soloist just didn't sell it. Alia’s volume was equal to the rest of the ensemble making her almost unnoticeable. Overall, the quality of individual performances in Rent is comparable to any other major regional or non-union production.
Compensating for the disappointing caliber of performances was the simple, yet effective scenic design by Paul Clay and of course the music and orchestrations, which practically speak for themselves. The playful choreography by Marlies Yearby wasn't distracting, rather just what it needed to be. The individuality contained within Marlie's choreography created a sense of tension and desire when combined with Johnathan's lyrics which I found to be very clever.
My final verdict on Rent: if it wasn't closing this evening I would defiantly suggest seeing for yourself why it has won the Pulitzer Prize and been around, changing lives, for twenty-one years.