BWW Reviews: Paramount's RENT Remembers the Love
Every once in a while a production comes around that reminds us why a musical holds the place in history that it does (and, as is often the case with such iconic musicals, reignites the passion of the first time we saw the show, despite how many incarnations we have since seen). In this case, Paramount's Broadway-quality production of Jonathan Larson's "Rent," which opened this past Saturday, reminds us why this show changed the course of contemporary musical theatre and why it has made the impact it has on its legions of fans.
I can't help but believe that Jim Corti, Artistic Director of Paramount who also helmed this production of "Rent," has the magic touch. The quality that Paramount is consistently outputting - the other three shows this season, "In the Heights," "Miss Saigon," and "42nd Street," were all critically praised and earned excellent word of mouth - is unrivaled by similar theatres in the Chicago area. No matter whether is Corti directing or overseeing as Artistic Director, Paramount is creating productions that are clearly focused on paying attention to the details of the script and eliciting performances from its talented casts that audiences can't help but root for, making productions that have the fine polish of a Broadway production. And his "Rent" is no exception.
Although, perhaps it's not so much of a magic touch as much as a simple reverence and appreciation for the piece he is staging. This production of "Rent" does not stray far from the original Broadway staging (nor does the set design by Kevin Depinet, although both the set and direction certainly expand on their original counterparts and find new pieces of their own), but Corti, smartly, recognizes what did work from the original and intertwines those moments with his own fresh direction (always letting the script lead the way into discovering these new moments). What results is a beautiful production that has clearly has been molded from a true passion and care toward the rock opera.
The cast are a largely talented bunch; each one of them stellar singers without sacrificing the acting chops in return (although I do hope Adaeze' Kelley as Mimi continues to grow in the role throughout the run, as she felt the least comfortable onstage). However, despite such a wonderful ensemble, the undeniable stand-out in this production is Sawyer Smith as Angel. Angel is, arguably, the most important character for the audience to connect with (as he is the character who is truly living the lesson "Rent" teaches us) and it is nearly impossible to not fall in love with Smith from the get-go. What is most exciting about his portrayal is that, while many in this role tend toward the over-the-top, exaggerations of the character, Smith creates an Angel that feels more real than any I have seen while still emanating just as much joy and light as the role requires. Smith's counterpart, Evan Tyrone Martin as Collins, is also a stand-out, perfectly complimenting his onstage love (Martin's soul-stirring rendition of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)," is the highlight of the show). Meghan Murphy's Joann and Andrew M. Mueller's Mark were also particularly good.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Jesse Klug's beautiful and inventive lighting that plays an intricate part toward creating the space and mood of the show (his creation of a Christmas tree also elicited gasps of awe from audience members the night I attended).
If you have never seen "Rent," I couldn't recommend a better introduction than Paramount Theatre's production to show you what all the hubbub has been about for the last 18 years. If you are no stranger to "Rent," the journey out to Aurora will be well worth it to remember just how great Jonathan Larson's musical is (and, perhaps, discover moments that you have never seen before). And, for all those naysayers out there that have become jaded by "Rent's" overexposure throughout the years, I dare you go Paramount's production. It's impossible to not get swept up in the love emanating from the stage.
Paramount Theatre's "Rent" is running through April 6th, 2014 at Paramount Theatre (23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora). Tickets range from $36.90 to $49.90 and can be purchased at www.ParamountAurora.com, at the box office, or by calling (630) 896-6666.
Photo Credit: Liz Lauren