BWW Review: RENT at Hippodrome Fills Hearts With Its Message of Love
For about 6 years, RENT was the show I just didn't want to see. While all my friends were head over heels for this brand new musical, I just couldn't get excited about it. I was very in to the traditional back then and RENT was anything but traditional. However, in 2002 my best friend turned 21 and all she wanted was to see RENT on Broadway. And when that happens, you just suck it up and go.
About 20 minutes into the show, about the time Mimi asks Roger to light her candle, I got it. I finally understood what every rave review I had read was saying. It was gorgeous, and heartbreaking. And it told a story that no one at the time was willing to tell - a story about lives and loves that were messy but in the midst of all of that, could also be uplifting and beautiful. By the second act, I was crying along with everyone else in the audience when the unthinkable happened (No spoilers here!) In the 15 years since, I've seen numerous productions; on Broadway and in community theatres, but every single time, I've cried for the exact same reason. It's one of the only shows I'm willing to re-watch after tears, which hardly ever happens. That's just how much RENT means to me.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking musical - 20 years already?! - and to celebrate this life-affirming show, a tour was launched. This tour landed in Baltimore this weekend, and I was lucky enough to see it. Through all the productions I've seen over the years, I've never had the chance to see a touring cast in my home state, so it seemed fitting that I would get to see the anniversary tour. And the show, in a single word, was brilliant. But it's always brilliant, so that really doesn't give you an idea of just how much I enjoyed it.
In the words of Jonathan Larson, we "measure our lives in love", and in the case of this production, there was a whole lot of love in my heart. I was blown away by the talent of this entire cast. Each and every cast member fit perfectly together as this group of friends. They really seemed to understand the weight of the story they were telling and just how special this show was to thousands of people. In reading their bios, I was surprised by their ages. It was such a young cast - some of which were much too young to see the original cast - with so much talent to share. The standout for me specifically was Angel - played by David Merino. Angel was dressed a little different than I'm used but he instilled so much charisma and sheer happiness that I found myself smiling each and every time I saw him on stage. That endless joy that Angel has is what makes her special, and Merino played this trait beautifully. Of course that meant I cried that much harder in Act 2 (again, no spoilers!) I was so affected by his performance that I started tearing up after I had finally composed myself, when he bounded on stage for his curtain call. RENT has taught me that sometimes you just gotta let it all out.
In the time since RENT opened in 1996 and now, there have been discussions around whether the show itself is "dated." When a show includes things like phone booths, discussions of the new millennium approaching and the AIDS crisis in full effect, discussions like these are going to take place. On one hand, I can understand it completely. Some things hold up while others, unfortunately do not. But after seeing this performance, even with these "last century" topics, I'd say the show has not dated in the least. At this point in time, love, acceptance and friendship is needed more than ever. And these actors get to spread these ideals to the masses, each and every night thanks to Jonathan Larson's beautiful work. That message is something that will never go out of style.