BWW Review: 20 Years of RENT Glory for Jonathan Larson's Songs at Clowes Memorial Hall
It may have been 20 years since Rent first took Broadway by storm, but there's a clear reason why it's earned a 20th anniversary tour. It resonates with truths that echo through all decades, not just the one in which it was created.
Since Rent is a more well-known musical, as an audience member you come in with much different expectations. I would say those expectations were not disappointed when witnessing it performed at Clowes Hall. The overall cast was talented and obviously have connections with each other that help draw you into this story centered on an unconventional family.
The family storyteller, Mark, was played by Logan Marks, and his ability to weave a narrative through song helped the audience become a part of the family for the duration of the musical. He portrayed well the struggle to find his place among a family who is dying of AIDS. As a filmmaker, he has the privilege but also the obligation to get the story right. In the process, however, he comes close to removing himself from the life he's trying to document.
Mark's lens is most often focused on his roommate, Roger, played by Logan Farine. Roger is a young rocker who saw the dark side of drugs and watched it rob him of someone he loved. Now, like Mark, he struggles to find where he fits in with life while his own comes with a looming expiration date. Farine captures this inner struggle in "One Song Glory" as he seeks a way to leave his mark on the world he doesn't know how to live in anymore.
Another notable among the cast was Javon King who brought the iconic role of Angel to life. He did not fail to disappoint as the glamorous and unapologetic drag queen. Tights and heels failed to faze him as he twirled and dipped across the stage. He helped the audience fall in love with this misfit of Alphabet City.
It would be nearly impossible to pick a favorite number from the entire show, but one that reaches toward the top in my mind was the duet "Take Me or Leave Me" between Joanne (Lencia Kebede) and Maureen (Lyndie Moe). Their contrasting personalities make them a volatile relationship, but their voices were perfect mates in that song. Maureen is assertive as the sexually robust and creative one while Joanne takes command as a powerful and confident woman who knows she's a catch. Their musical sparring made for thrilling theater.
Somehow, 20 years have passed since the iconic show and HAMILTON of its day, debuted to an indulgent fan base. Rent went on to win the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for drama and snagged four Tony Awards in the same year, including the best musical. While reflecting a what was being show - New York in the 1990's - the musical of starving artists all looking for love in the wrong places, motivation for their work, and a safe/steady place to live in the Big Apple timeless. Johnathan Larson's modern twist on Puccini's "La Bohème," remained an ardent spectacle stocked with unforgettable songs.
This show has always been moving and powerful, and the 20-member company in this particular production did just fine. The cast 100% nailed the ensemble theme song "Seasons of Love," which is pretty close to a litmus test for any run of Rent. Plus, the 5-member orchestra with direction from Matthew DeMaria was superb, harking directly back to the original show.
The cast has all the familiar characteristics of the original hit complete with the iconic costumes of Roger's plaid pants, Mimi's blue, skin-tight leggings, Mark's ever-lasting scarf.
The musical on the Clowes stage had the exact intensity and dynamic acting it needed to make Johnathan's ideas truly come back to life. The whole ensemble had incredible pipes for their individual parts, but I felt like some lacked some of the acting prowess to develop the depth of their characters.
However, the show was held together by quite a few stronger performances, initially with Logan Ferber as Mark, who holds himself the unyielding rock for the production. From the supporting cast, Lyndie Moe was able to stand out for her brash and comical portrayal of Maureen, and lastly the fabulous drag queen, Angel absolutely steals some scenes all together.
At its heart, Rent is a story of friendship's ability to crush and save. You cannot fail to connect with someone in the cast because anyone can relate to the struggles of being in love with someone as a lover or a friend. It creates a chaos and craziness that's worth it: "La Vie Bohème."
To take part in this celebration of Jonathan Larson's masterpiece, be sure to attend between now and June 17th.