BWW Review: RENT at Times Union Performing Arts Center
Everything is Rent at the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts in Jacksonville, FL. Jonathan Larson's Rent takes place in New York City in the Late 80's to early 90's. The audience follows a group of characters as they discover how important it is to embrace each day they are given because they do not know when it will be their last. Through the entire production on January 14, I could hear fans of the production laugh, sniffle, and applaud as the beautiful story unfolded.
The energy the entire cast had was unbelievable! One of my all-time favorite numbers from this musical will always be "La Vie Bohème." The positivity in such bleak circumstances and the energy everyone conveys is intoxicating. They truly conveyed the rebellious nature of young adults living in NYC in the late 1980's. The "director", so to speak, Mark Cohen (Cody Jenkins) portrayed the character perfectly. I have seen the movie version of Rent many times, and Jenkins reminded me so much of the original actor (Anthony Rapp). In fact, if I closed my eyes, I probably would have said it was Rapp singing. Roger Davis (Coleman Cummings) was perfect as Mark's moody, rock-n-roll roommate. "What You Own" sang between Coleman and Cummings evoked so much emotion and turmoil. Roger's love interest, Mimi Marquez (Aiyana Smash), was amazing! Not only was I impressed with her performance in "Light My Candle" and "Without You", but her stamina in "Out Tonight" as she danced all around the stage belting her heart out was incredible!
Another couple with great chemistry and voices was Tom Collins (Shafiq Hicks) and Angel Schunard (James Schoppe). Again, Hicks embodied the character so well, I was instantly reminded of the original actor (Jesse L. Martin). His chemistry with Schoppe really shined in their performance of "I'll Cover You." The love and endearment between the two was so prevalent in the number. It also needs to be mentioned how incredible Schoppe was in "Today 4 U." The way he was able to jump on tables, dance around the stage, and drum on whatever object was near, while keeping up with the lyrics was impressive. Schoppe's quick change into the Christmas Angel costume with all the makeup was also quite impressive!
The last couple of the group to discuss is Maureen Johnson (Kelsee Sweigard) and Joanne Jefferson (Samantha Mbolekwa). These two belting out to each other in "Take Me or Leave Me" is something every audience member will get a kick out of. The two's relationship is clearly hot and cold and is portrayed as such. While this was one of their most stellar performances, each had their own numbers that portrayed their immense talent. Sweigard's portrayal of "Over the Moon" was absolutely hysterical. There was audible laughter throughout the theatre. Sweigard took the performance art piece and ran with it and was truly able to make it her own. Mbolekwa has a voice to be reckoned with. I was blown away in her first song "Tango: Maureen." Her voice in every number she sang in was so pure and beautiful.
The entire ensemble was great! They helped to tie the whole New York atmosphere together to give the "bohemian" vibe that Jonathan Larson intended for the musical.
Rent changed Broadway in 1996. The current cast of the 20th Anniversary Tour continues to spread the message Jonathan Larson wanted to convey, there is "no day, but today." The cast of Rent will be performing at the Times Union Center now through January 19.