BWW Review: RENT, THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR at ALTRIA THEATRE

BWW Review: RENT, THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR at ALTRIA THEATRE
Photography By Carol Rosegg

RENT.

Yep - just the name of the musical itself says most of everything pertinent to its importance.

In a practical sense, it is almost fruitless for me to even comment on the international implications of this show's cultural stamp (primarily on the LGBT acceptance movement); certainly countless writers vastly more acute and eloquent than yours truly did just that in publications printed decades ago.

Nonetheless this current cast and crew, under the company management of The Booking Group and Work Light Productions, still bring a booming and vivacious energy to librettist/lyricist/composer Jonathan Larson's untimely theatrical epitaph (for those unaware: Larson died unexpectedly from heart complications during the preview stages of the original production in 1996; he was only 35).

Larson's passing, as heartbreaking as it must have been for those close to him which undoubtedly included the original cast and crew, must have felt eerily coincidental (in a literary sense) given the themes of mortality that are ever-present in RENT (that said production's continuance would inevitably transmute into a tribute for Larson, further validating the show's significance as it met with instant success).

The musical itself is an updated reimagining of Giacomo Puccini's LA BOHEME. For RENT, the 1830's Bohemian circles of Paris are replaced by New York City in the late 20-century, in a neighborhood that is filled with destitution and crime. Also, while tuberculosis was the death knell in Puccini's opera, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is the biological scare present in Larson's musical.

Additionally (and much in keeping with the opera), the musical is almost entirely sung-through with some of the most infectious rock compositions ever composed for the American musical theatre art form.

And this cast of twenty maintains the vocal chops and praiseworthy endurance to carry out the rigors of these blaring power ballads.

Fine examples of these singing feats include Josh Walker's (Tom Collins) poignant rendition of "I'll Cover You" (Reprise), Lyndie Moe (Maureen Johnson) and Jasmine Easler's (Joanne Jefferson) richly sweet duet of "Take Me or Leave Me," Alana Cauthen's angelic solo in "Seasons of Love," and Aaron Alcaraz's (Angel Schunard) hip-hoppy juggernaut-of-a-number that is "Today 4 U." In fact, Alcaraz's Angel steals the show with all three of his impressive threats (but Angel always steals this show).

Further accolades go to Matthew DeMaria and his orchestra, as well as tight choreography by Marlies Yearby which extends to Dance Captain Felix Marchany.

If I had a main note of critical observation, it would be the very, very nitpicky fact that RENT has barely changed in its overall execution of staging, style, or even in look - the costumes and set pieces have remained virtually the same throughout its long and successful tenure.

Perhaps this will always be the case; and the replication of nostalgia has been a very popular business model as of late. But should RENT ever return to Broadway (and subsequently go on tour), I, for one, would love to see it transmogrified into a daring new permutation.

RENT plays at the Altria Theatre through the 29th of April, 2018.

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From This Author Brent Deekens

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