This year Jonathan Larson’s rock musical RENT hit it’s 20-year anniversary mark and is celebrating with a national tour. Set in the early 1990’s, RENT follows a diverse group of artists through their struggles to make ends meet. The show beautifully depicts real life problems with careers, love interests and the impending effects of AIDS on their community. RENT’s strong performers, beautiful choreography, and minimalistic set are just a few elements tying into this Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning show.
David Merino’s portrayal of the loud and proud drag queen Angel absolutely stole the show. Merino’s consistent high energy and flamboyantly feminine nature did not go unnoticed by the audience as they shrieked with enjoyment for ‘Today 4 U’. The months of rehearsing in Angel’s stilettos and pumps definitely paid off. Merino’s strut was perfection and there was not one slip in his exotic choreography. The crowd went wild over Merino’s many riffs, and many were brought to tears at the death of the lovable Angel.
The vocal talent of this cast is absolutely incredible across the board. Kaleb Wells tugged everyone’s heart-strings as Roger, especially during ‘One Song Glory’. Jasmine Easler blew the audience away belting her riffs with such ease. One voice we were not prepared for was ensemble member Alia Hoge. Hoge was the female soloist in possibly the most well-known number of the show, ‘Seasons of Love’. Her voice echoed throughout the silent auditorium as a single spotlight danced over her head, leaving the rest of the cast only dimly lit. Hoge’s debut was unexpected but very much appreciated by the audience as they cheered and whistled after her solo.
I have a great respect for the show’s choreographer Marlies Yearby. So many musicals have choreography featuring a lot of unity, the characters moving as one and completing the same dance moves. Of the 32 musical numbers, a majority of them had intense full cast choreography. Where it’d be easy to have them dance in unison, each cast member had their own unique choreography. Yearby constructed 20 individual routines for nearly every number. Doing so created consistent bursts of movement, the audience never knowing where to look trying their hardest to fully absorb everything that was going on. While this could have been seen as chaotic, she worked them together so fluidly that each character’s movement complimented the next and the scene felt beautifully coordinated. This technique made the use of unison movement powerful, as a break from the organized chaos for the entire cast to punch a fist in the air was impactful.
The set for this production was very minimal. Majority of the show took place inside or in the alley outside Roger’s apartment, which only consisted of a few tables and chairs. The live band had its spot under a platform that was used as many different locations. On stage left resides a towering sculpture-like mound made of PVC pipes and other objects that could be classified as junk you could find on the street. This tower was used to represent many things including the doorway to Roger’s apartment and the balcony. The set stayed the same the entirety of the performance, with the exception of moving around the chairs and tables to create alternate locations. Due to the lack of setting, actors would typically stay frozen on stage while a new set of characters carried out their scene.
Lighting was the largest creative technical element used in the show. Lighting Designer Jonathan Spencer used the traditional gold lighting for outdoor scenes, but his indoor lighting was very unique. A lot of lighting designers use a ‘through the blinds’ cold-toned light, but Spencer chose to make these lines prominent and sweep across the stage. There were times where characters were barely lit or had streaks of light across their faces, which added an artistic look to the scene. During the orgy scene, Angel pops above the sheet with glorious beams of light erupting from her body. It was an entrancing view filled with power and emotion as she dies moments later.
With an immense amount of talent and a beautifully heart wrenching story filled with contemporary messages and laughter, RENT is the 11th longest Broadway-running show with good reason. Continuing its run at the Orpheum theater in Minneapolis through June 11th, RENT is a life altering performance that you do not want to miss.