Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: RENT National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center

Listening to the original Broadway cast recording is one thing. Watching the material performed live in front of an audience is a whole other experience.

Review: RENT National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center

Loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's 1896 opera, La bohème, Rent follows a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City's East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

This musical was a passion project for its creator Jonathan Larson, whose time as an aspiring musical theatre writer was most recently the subject of a Netflix film released a couple months ago titled tick, tick...BOOM! directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Larson had wanted to write a show that would bring the MTV generation and the musical theatre world together. Hours before the first preview at Off-Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop on January 25th, 1996, he sadly died at the age of 35 in his home from an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm (which was believed to have resulted from Marfan syndrome).

Later that night, the show went on, but as a sing-through of the musical dedicated to him. Rent went on to premiere as planned and quickly gained popularity fueled by enthusiastic critical reviews as well as attention from the recent death of its creator. The show also ended up becoming the seventh musical in history to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which was accepted by Jonathan's parents, Al & Nan Larson, on his behalf.

Due to such overwhelming popularity, Rent ended up moving to the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street uptown on April 29th, 1996. The show not only became the biggest hit Broadway had seen in years, but also a cultural phenomenon. The musical's controversial topics and innovative pricing, (which included same day-of-performance $20 tickets) helped increase the popularity of musical theater among the younger generation. Rent went on to win 4 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), and ended up running for 12 years and 5,123 performances on Broadway after closing on September 7th, 2008. For those who'd like to learn more about the history of this groundbreaking work, you can read all about it through this feature I wrote for BroadwayWorld that was published on January 27th, 2019 (the day Fox's Emmy-winning television production aired).

This national touring production, which is currently out on its last legs before closing for good, is a recreation of the original staging. Evan Ensign, who worked as a resident assistant director on the Broadway production, is at the helm. Marlies Yearby returned to choreograph. The design aspects from Jonathan Spencer's dynamic lighting to Paul Clay's sets (adapted for this tour by Matthew Marfaffi) to Angela Wendt's costumes have each been remounted. Though most important of all, the cast of young non-equity actors literally bring the house down with their energetic performances.

J.T. Wood plays Mark Cohen, a documentarian who manages to serve as the narrator of the musical. He does an expert job at holding the story together. Tommy Kaiser (who was filling in for Colman Cummings at the performance I was attending) gives a heartfelt performance as Mark's roommate, Roger Davis, a struggling musician and former drug addict who is HIV positive. As Mimi Marquez, a 19-year-old stripper with drug addictions, Analise Rios (filling in for Aiyana Smash) plays with different ranges of emotions. She not only gets to show off Mimi's edgy side in her big solo number, 'Out Tonight', but she also gets to display her vulnerable side in 'Without You' and 'Goodbye Love'. Shafiq Hicks gives a tender performance as Tom Collins, a computer genius and liberal professor.

He also provides such a heartbreaking rendition of 'I'll Cover You (Reprise)' in Act II. Javon King is perfectly flamboyant as Collins' lover, Angel Dumott Schunard, an eccentric HIV-positive street drummer and drag queen with a magnetic personality. He proves to be quite the triple threat in his big number, 'Today 4 U'. As Maureen Johnson, an unpredictably zany performance artist, Makenzie Rivera (filling in for Lyndie Moe) is such a burst of energy from the moment she enters with her rendition of 'Over the Moon'. As her girlfriend, Joanne Jefferson, a public interest lawyer, Rayla Garske gives an effectively reserved performance. It is interesting to watch the journey their tumultuous relationship takes. Not to mention that their rendition of 'Take Me or Leave Me' is a highlight. Jarred Bedgood is quite good as Benjamin Coffin III, the landlord of Mark & Roger's apartment building who traded in his personal morals for power and wealth.

Roger's big solo number near the beginning of the show, 'One Song Glory', is about how he wants to write one great song before he eventually loses his life to AIDS. Watching Colman Cummings performing it made me realize how little did Jonathan Larson know as he was creating Rent that the musical itself would be his 'One Song Glory'. It really is a great gift he left to the world. The story (as well as its themes) despite being written and set in the 1990s still feels very relevant to today. Longtime fans should be satisfied with this current touring production. Although if you've never seen Rent at all, what are you waiting for? This was pretty much the Hamilton of its time in how it really changed the perception of what a Broadway musical can be and the impact it had on pop culture. Not to mention that audiences should easily feel emotionally empowered by the end.


For more information regarding the tour, please visit:
https://www.rentontour.net

TodayTix

Related Stories

From This Author - Jeffrey Kare

Jeffrey Kare currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. Having been born and raised in Northeast Ohio, Jeffrey took interest in live theater at age 11. He also had the great pleasure of seeing s... (read more about this author)


Review: FROZEN National Tour at Durham Performing Arts CenterReview: FROZEN National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center
September 16, 2022

Based on Disney's 2013 Academy Award-winning animated movie musical of the same name as well as Hans Christian Andersen's 1844 fairy tale, The Snow Queen, Frozen follows two royal sisters named Anna and Elsa. At a young age, they were pulled apart by a mysterious secret. As Elsa struggles to find her voice and harness her powers within, Anna embarks on an epic adventure to bring her family together once and for all. When the film first came out, it was an enormous blockbuster, eventually becoming the highest-grossing animated movie of all time at the worldwide box office (before it was eventually dethroned by Frozen II six years later).

Review: Theatre Raleigh's YELLOW FACEReview: Theatre Raleigh's YELLOW FACE
July 1, 2022

What did our critic think? Yellow Face follows Asian-American playwright DHH. Fresh off his Tony Award win for M. Butterfly, he leads a protest against the casting of Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian pimp in the original Broadway production of Miss Saigon, condemning the practice as 'yellowface.' His position soon comes back to haunt him when he mistakes a Caucasian actor, Marcus G. Dahlman, for mixed-race, and casts him as the lead Asian role of his own Broadway-bound comedy, Face Value. When DHH discovers the truth of Marcus' ethnicity, he tries to conceal his blunder to protect his reputation as an Asian-American role model by passing the actor off as a 'Siberian Jew.'

BWW Review: MY FAIR LADY National Tour at Durham Performing Arts CenterBWW Review: MY FAIR LADY National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center
May 4, 2022

Based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion, My Fair Lady is set in London in the year 1912. Read what our critic has to say.

BWW Review: North Carolina Theatre's RING OF FIREBWW Review: North Carolina Theatre's RING OF FIRE
April 30, 2022

Ring of Fire is a musical presented as a concert by a group of five performers playing the songs of legendary country music artist Johnny Cash. The show, which was conceived by William Meade and created by Richard Maltby, Jr., opened on March 12th, 2006 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway. Sadly, it only ran for 57 performances after closing on April 30th of that year. This production presented by North Carolina Theatre happens to be directed by Randy Redd, who was a member of the original Broadway cast.

BWW Review: RENT National Tour at Durham Performing Arts CenterBWW Review: RENT National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center
January 29, 2022

Loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's 1896 opera, La bohème, Rent follows a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City's East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.