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Idol-Ridden 'RENT' Still Takes Us 'Out Tonight'

A show that was a period piece even upon its premiere to Broadway twelve years ago, RENT, as time passes, becomes less and less relevant to modern times. However, this musical which broke a lot of ground in contemporary musical theatre, can still speak to a modern audience and the never-fading RENT-heads. The recent, muddled film adaptation has brought a new stream of fans to the soon to be closing Broadway hit. Currently playing for a limited engagement at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, this national tour of RENT brings some fresh talent but hardly new perspective to the windy city. This cookie-cutter tour from the original Broadway production, offers near-identical sets, staging, costumes and lighting. The excitement and energy of this rock-opera still invigorates the public and makes departed composer Jonathan Larson yet another reminder of talent gone far before its time.

The cast is lead by two former 'Idol' contestants. Roger, played by South African Idol winner Heinz Winckler and Collins, played by American Idol finalist Anwar Robinson both offer impressive vocal stylings. It is however a bit disheartening that American Idol has become a breeding ground for Broadway-caliber talent. Lack of formal acting training is evident and we as an audience can only forgive this for so long in the production, forgiveness mainly coming when they are singing as opposed to speaking. Winckler's voice is full and soaring throughout the whole production but lacks the grit and rock that makes the character of Roger passion-filled and heartbreaking. Robinson plays the usual baritone Collins as a tenor and we never quite believe he is a philosophy teacher, let alone in love with a drag queen.

Jed Resnick plays Mark, the struggling filmmaker, with a loveable dorkiness, wit and charm. His acting chops sometimes aid the former mentioned 'Idols'. Jennifer Colby Talton is energized and sexy as MiMi but we do wish for more vocal power in most of her numbers. Christine Dwyer is full of spunk and offers immense vocal talent as the sassy lesbian Maureen, and John Watson brings new life to the usually flat-as-a-board character of Benny. Kristen-Alexzander Griffith is disappointing in the role of Angel, coming across more bitchy than endearing. Angel is the heart of this group of friends and Griffith's interpretation lacks the love and empathy required for such a warm character. Onyie Nwachukwu as Joanne takes some warming up to but we are all with her by the time we get to the power-duet Take Me or Leave Me sung with Dwyer. The rest of the ensemble, playing various characters throughout the production, all offer strong yet raw vocals and fresh characterization. It should be noted that this is a non-equity tour of the show and much of the cast have slim professional theatre expirience but bring a lot of gumption and heart to the stage to make up for it.

So, as we live in the dawn of this new millennium, we can still appreciate those 'Dying in America' at the end of the last. RENT still brings hope and humanity to the stage and reminds us that the term 'No day but today' was once far more than a theatre cliché.

RENT  is playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre until February 17. Show times and ticket prices vary and can be purchased by calling 312.902.1400 or at any ticketmaster locations. Special $20 tickets are available on a first come basis before each show for all those poor, Chicago bohemians needing a fix.

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From This Author - Anthony Lewis