BWW Review: Emotionally Raw RENT Is Not To Be Missed at PPAC
It's hard to believe that the musical RENT is 20 year old, but watching it in 2017 it remains shockingly relevant, and strangely stuck in time. The story of the bohemian squatters in New York's Alphabet City seems almost like a museum piece about the horrors of AIDS, but at the same time, considering all of the technological developments of the last 20 year, the time of RENT should feel even more foreign. Gay marriage is now the law of the land and AIDS is no longer a death sentence, but many of the other struggles these beloved characters face are still real and universal. RENT is a story of the 90's, but it's also a beautiful story of friendships and how they evolve. The cast of this current touring production certainly have some big shoes to fill, but many of them manage to shake off the albatrosses of previous classic performances and make these roles uniquely their own.
Since this is the 20th anniversary tour, it uses the original sets and choreography, and costumes are absolutely spot-on. The sight of Mark's striped sweater immediately propels the viewer back to the mid-90's, and Kaleb Wells as Roger has perfect Kurt Cobain hair with just the right amount of grease and grit. In fact, Kaleb Wells manages to take the character of Roger, who can sometimes come off as pretentious and too cool, and make him earnest and endearing in a way that this reviewer has never seen before. His is also one of the most powerful voices in the cast, and his performance of "One Song Glory" is breathtaking. He manages to elevate the lyrics about writing one final song to leave a legacy to a new place where it is a raw and emotional gut punch.
Equally astonishing in vocal ability is AaRon Harrington as Tom Collins. His voice is actually so deep that it's occasionally difficult to make out his spoken dialogue, but once he starts singing, those concerns just wash away. His voice is velvety and just a joy to listen to. The chemistry between Harrington and David Merino who plays Angel is so sweet and loving that it feels 100% genuine, which really also serves to heighten the emotion when Angel dies. Merino is also just a delight as Angel--the one who just seems too good for this world. His high energy performance of "Today 4 U" is a spectacle of dance and color which leaves you no choice but to fall in love with him just as Collins does.
Though this cast is bursting with talent and energy, there were a couple low points. Skyler Volpe as Mimi certainly looks the part, but it seemed to take her a while to warm up. Her appearance on stage had the audience bursting into applause, but unfortunately her performance of "Out Tonight" was a bit low energy. She did manage to get stronger as the show went on, but it was a wobbly first impression. Her singing voice is strong and the "Light my Candle" duet between her and Roger is sweet and hopeful.
Thankfully, despite that minor hiccup everyone else is perfectly cast and manages to shine in their own way, while complementing other's performances. Katie Lemark is fantastic as Maureen in her performance of "Over the Moon". She manages perfectly to inject some delightful bits of humor, while making it perfectly clear that her performance art is something to be taken very seriously. She has excellent chemistry with Jasmine Easler who plays Joanne. Indeed, the cast as a whole have excellent chemistry and really seem like genuine friends, which reads through every performance.
Rent is a show that hits every emotion. The audience can go from the absolute heartbreak of "Will I" where a company of HIV infected characters worry about their inevitable decline and "will someone care?" to the pure joy of watching Tom Collins and Angel sing "I'll Cover You". Life and death and love are all universal themes and they are presented so well here that even though the AIDS crisis may seem far away from most viewers, this is a show that will feel just as relevant as it did 20 years ago. There are no words to describe the feeling of seeing this on stage, side-by-side with an audience going through the same roller coaster of emotions as you. It's cathartic, it's hopeful and it's something not to be missed.
"RENT" PLAYS APRIL 7 - 9 at Providence Performing Arts Center (220 Weybosset Street, Providence.
Performance times are Friday, April 7 at 7:30PM; Saturday, April 8 at 2PM & 8PM; and Sunday, April 9 at 1PM &6:30PM.
The Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) announced that seats in the first two rows of the orchestra section will be available for $23 for each performance of RENT.
The $23 ticket price is inclusive of PPAC's $3 per ticket restoration charge. The $23 tickets are available for in-person purchases at the PPAC Box Office, located at 220 Weybosset Street in downtown Providence, on the day of each performance only, two hours prior to the show. The $23 tickets are available for cash only purchases and are limited to two tickets per person on a first-come; first-served basis.