Rent is the story of a group of New York City artists fighting the effect AIDS has on their community and imperfectly loving one another. Actually, the plot is a lot more complicated than that and the opening numbers don't really establish the complicated histories of each character, so the production has conveniently provided a character relationships and description map on page 10 of the Playbill.
The 20th anniversary production of Jonathon Larson's Rent is definitely flawed, but not to the point that it isn't a moving theatrical experience. The problem with the show is that it's flippantly fast-paced and the plot isn't well-explained (hence the character map). Despite how hectic it is, when the performers and the audience slows down to appreciate each facet of the show, it's truly a masterpiece.
The cast is phenomenal. Every single person on stage obviously takes this story seriously and demonstrates the use of invested, unique talent. Firstly, Aaron Harrington needs tone recognized for his role as Collins. There are very few modern Broadway shows that feature a true bass as a main, complex character and Harrington's rich molasses-like voice makes his role that much more impressive. His duet with David Merino (Angel), "I'll Cover You" sounds exactly like what love should feel like. Every single lead has remarkable vocal control and power, perfect for expressing the all-encompassing anguish and joy their characters feel.
Normally, audience members don't pay too much attention to the lighting choices, but Rent's lighting design was strikingly symbolic at times. In the beginning of the show, when couples are meeting for the first time, Christmas tree lights flash to indicate the chemistry between characters. While Roger ( Kaleb Wells) laments that his life might not have had any meaning unless he writes a great song before he dies, he sits alone on stage, illuminated by a white light that beams down on him from the heavens and lights up his silhouette across the expanse of stage behind him. This creates an aura of hope, while illuminating the darkness that Roger feels is looming over him. The white lights that softly fall upon Angel, the sickly yellow color that permeates the stage before Angel dies, and the grimy, muted lights that cover the stage the rest of the time, all reflect the lives of the characters perfectly.
Rent is successful for a variety of reasons, but one of the most important ones is that it is an accurate portrayal of being human. The characters aren't perfect people. Roger is rude to everyone who tries to love him, Maureen expects to be loved and respected, but can't treat others the same way. Joanne stays with a woman who doesn't love her the way she deserves. But these people grow and change and figure out different ways to make themselves and the ones they love happy. Rent addresses all the most universal fears for humans, which is comforting and an emotional experience for audiences. Roger struggles to leave behind something beautiful, a song, because he is afraid his life means nothing. Mark can't truly interact with other people, and remains behind his camera instead of really participating in the drama of his friends lives. All the characters fear that they will die from AIDS. These are situations that are easy to imagine or are similar to challenges that we have faced ourselves. Rent is about hope and love and how those things may change like the seasons, but will always return to us.