Review: RENT at Musical Theatre Southwest

No Day But Today to see this amazing production

By: Dec. 07, 2023
Review: RENT at Musical Theatre Southwest

Just in time for the holidays, my favorite Christmas musical debuts in Albuquerque. Now, technically it’s not a “Christmas” show, but there’s enough references to holidays, family, cheer and community to make it a holiday show. Musical Theatre Southwest takes on the beloved and iconic show this month; if you miss it, you will most certainly have regrets.

The Pulitzer and Tony-award winning show, Jonathan Larsen’s most successful (and sadly, last), is loosely based on the opera La Bohéme. It’s the story of a group of starving artists – a musician, filmmaker, dancer, street performer and experimental poet; in addition to a lawyer, tech wizard and yuppie developer. While the plot follows that of La Bohéme, there are a few differences, most importantly the threat of AIDS, rather than influenza, is driving all the characters to live each day as their last, because it well might be.

MST has compiled a stellar cast, crew and orchestra for this show. The ¾ seating makes the show feel immersive and intimate all at once. The blend between the singers and the band was excellent for the first half of the performance,; the band got too loud at the start of Act 2 but then scaled it back. Amazing vocals from everyone onstage was the driving force of this show.

Stellar performances from Paul Ashby as Mark, Jesse Miller as Roger, and Kenneth Davis Jr. as Collins – these three characters are on stage the most and create a strong foundation for their fellow cast mates. Ashby is the show’s impromptu narrator, and helps to tie the scenes and characters together. Miller’s rock vocals soar, especially during One Song Glory. Davis’s rich, clear and gospel-tinged vocals create some of the most touching moments of the show. Equally strong vocals from Arianne Cohen as Mimi and Tasha Booth, as well as impeccable comedic timing from Christy Burbank as Maureen, add to the joy and power of the show. Booth’s duet with Ashby, The Tango Maureen, was a well-staged highlight of act one .

Two surprise performances round out the cast, with a powerful and emotional performance form Robert Carabajal as Angel and Xavier Visage as the misguided but villainous Benny. Carabajal captured Angel’s vulnerability, individuality and strength in the face of an unbeatable disease – his standout number, Today for You, was well-staged and a fun moment . Visage took what could be a stereotypical villain role and gave Benny nuance and sympathy for his desire to create a better space for his friends, even though his tactics are less than innocent.

Some of the most important parts of Rent are the vignettes on the streets of Manhattan - many have complex harmonies and multiple vocal lines that in the wrong directorial hands could become muddled, but they shine in this production  -kudos to Director and Music Director April Lisette Ball and Co-Director and Choreographer Jonathan Ragsdale for making these scenes pop and giving each ensemble member their moment to shine.

One more note of thanks to MTS for their pre-show announcement asking audience members to resist the urge to sing along – there have been far too many nights in the theater lately with people thinking they are at a rock concert and belting it out over the actors onstage and I, for one, am not here for it. I appreciate MTS taking this stance and respecting their performers in this way. Adding the sing-along of Seasons of Love after bows was a nice touch as well.

Get in the holiday spirit, the spirit of renewal and the warm glow of community with Rent. The run is sure to sell out, so get your tickets soon.