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Review: RENT Dazzles at BroadwaySF: Here's to Jonathan Larson's Vision and the Artists that Bring It to Life!

RENT comes to San Francisco's BroadwaySF Orpheum Theatre!

Review: RENT Dazzles at BroadwaySF: Here's to Jonathan Larson's Vision and the Artists that Bring It to Life!

For twenty-five years, Jonathan Larson's RENT has inspired audiences to choose love over fear and to live without regret. But perhaps just as importantly, this Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning phenomenon celebrates artists and the raw courage and commitment they evince in daring to pursue their craft - almost always in a community of like-minded misfits, non-conformists and crazies. Here's to them - or as Steve Jobs so adroitly put it, "Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes ... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo... while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do."

Certainly, both Jonathan Larson and his beloved characters in RENT fit the above. But further, his characters find acceptance by forming a family of friends and, set as RENT is during the AIDS epidemic, they also create a community of compassion as they care for one another in sickness and health, a motley bunch just trying to live their dreams. Larson fashioned the show as a rock opera, but it is in the softer, tender numbers and the moments of facing death together that the show finds its heart. (Tragically, he himself died of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm the night before RENT began previews Off-Broadway.)

Just as Larson himself did, friends and roommates Roger (Coleman Cummings) and Mark (Cody Jenkins) live in a New York loft with no heat. Mark is an aspiring filmmaker and the center of their circle of friends, while HIV positive Roger desperately wants to write one glory song before he dies to leave behind.

Mark narrates the show and films them all as the broke and close-to-starving artists go through a year together. Jenkins strong vocals are joined by Cummings evocative style as they ponder how they'll pay last year's rent in one of the opening numbers; eviction by their ex-roommate Benny (Jared Bedgood) who married up, seems close at hand. When he reveals his plans to evict the homeless from the lot next door to turn it into a high-tech cyber arts studio, Mark and Roger team up with their group of friends to stop him.

And now to their friends. Javon King was quite simply stunning as he danced onto the stage as the genderfluid Angel Schunard. He was met with thunderous applause, as well as a kind of reverence that could be felt throughout the theatre. Angel is the heart of the show. She is HIV positive as is her partner Tom Collins (standout Shafiq Hicks).

If Angel is the heart, then drug-addicted and HIV positive exotic dancer Mimi Marquez (played with outrageous audacity by Aiyana Smash) is the searing soul of RENT. Her sweet sensuality beguiles Roger ("Light My Candle") but he feels conflicted. Later she attempts to seduce him in the iconic song "Out Tonight." While singing to him spread-eagle on the metal railing high overhead - and dressed in the signature blue latex pants - she flips hair and glitter sprays everywhere and the crowd goes wild. Even though Roger isn't won over, the audience definitely was. It will take Mimi almost dying for Roger to realize that she is his glory song.

Not to be outdone is Mark's former girlfriend Maureen, (a lusty, hilarious Lyndie Moe). Her outrageous Christmas Eve performance, set up hastily to protest Benny's evictions, brings down the house. (Audience participation includes moo-ing!) Her lover Joanne (Rayla Garske is seriously funny) is the complete opposite. As an Ivy League-educated lawyer, she struggles with Maureen's flirtatious nature. They come to terms with it all in the song "Take Me or Leave Me."

Ultimately there's no getting around the fact that almost everyone is dying. But the show's message resonates loudly amidst the fear: Live in the moment with love. As Mimi sings to Roger, "There's only this. Forget regret - or life is yours to miss...No day but today."

But it is RENT's signature song "Seasons of Love" (the solo is sung with consummate skill by Charlotte Odusanya) that is at once gut-wrenching and heartwarming. "How do you measure a year in the life? How about Love? Measure in Love. Seasons of love."

It cannot go without saying that Lin-Manuel Miranda just made his directorial debut with the film version of "Tick, Tick...Boom," the semi-autobiographical stage musical of the same name by Jonathan Larson, which he starred in as well. With a screenplay by Steven Levenson and starring Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson, the film is a tribute to the genius and creative courage of Jonathan Larson, a struggling artist and a crazy misfit who saw things differently and changed Broadway forever.

December 3-12, 2021
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Directed by Evan Ensign
Choreography by Marlies Yearby

Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg

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