BWW Review: RENT's 20th Anniversary Tour Won't Disappoint Your Inner Renthead
Rent was one of the first musicals I truly loved.
My affinity for musicals didn't start as early as a lot of theatre people I know. I first picked up Rent in junior high, a 2-disc set from the library. I'd borrow it over and over until I learned all the words. Rent is the reason why angsty rock musicals will forever be my niche.
Writer/composer Jonathan's Larson's winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama also nabbed four Tony Awards, including best musical. However, Larson died almost immediately followed the show's final dress rehearsal, never experiencing the show's huge success. Closing in 2008 after 12 years on Broadway, the last time Denver audiences caught a tour of Rent was in 2009, featuring original cast members Anthony Rapp (Mark) and Adam Pascal (Roger). But Rent's 20th Anniversary Tour feels like the show never went away.
Directed by Evan Ensign (based on Michael Greif's original direction), you probably won't catch too many differences from the original in this one. The iconic costumes remain aside from a few upgrades. The set is nearly identical. Even the diehard Rentheads still permeate the audience, cheering for every nostalgic element. Yeah, even the energy is still there.
And much of that is due to a stellar cast of fresh talent, each bringing their own vibe to the characters while maintaining the roles' seminal quirks. Mark (Sammy Ferber) is just as charismatic as you'd need from the autonomous filmmaker. Roger (Kaleb Wells) brings refreshing vocals to the struggling rocker. Drug-addicted dancer Mimi (Skyler Volpe) has a nice balance of fierce and fragile. Egocentric protester Maureen (Lyndie Moe) has a deliciously tempestuous attitude, which works well paired alongside Joanne (Jasmine Easler), who is charmingly straightforward. At the emotional core of the show are a poignantly earnest Tom Collins (Devinre Adams) and his lover Angel (Aaron Alcaraz), played with a lively sincerity. And Benny (Marcus John) is still kind of a douchebag you love to hate.
Personally, it was interesting to experience Rent feeling more like a relic. While the production was groundbreaking in its time, society has evolved in a way that Rent is starting to feel like a period piece. True, several of the show's topics--like addiction, gentrification and sexuality--still remain at the forefront of current issues, but Rent is also a capsule of what it was like in New York City at the end of the millennium.
For Rentheads, this one's a heavy dose of nostalgia. And for theatergoers catching it for the first time, they'll get it experience its original 42-song glory.
Rent's 20th Anniversary Tour plays the Buell Theatre with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through November 21. Tickets are available at DenverCenter.org or by calling (303)893-4100. A lottery for $20 tickets in the first few rows is held 2 ½ hour prior to each show in front of the Buell box office.
Photos by Carol Rosegg