BWW Review: RENT at Straz Center For The Performing Arts
Rent. Jonathan Larson's musical masterpiece inspired by Puccini's La Boheme celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Its theme, characters and life lessons are as current today as they were 20 years ago. You can't help but believe that Mark, Maureen, Joanne, Mimi, Roger, Angel, Tom, and Benny, continue to be watched over by Mr. Larson, their creator and guardian angel, whose untimely death missed opening night of his legacy by a few short days. I think his sudden death gave all the more meaning to the song "No Day But Today". Launching careers of performers such as Anthony Rapp, Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs, today these big names continue to pay tribute to him singing the show's most popular tunes to an escalating fan base of Rent admirers.
Rent takes us back to the 90's when AIDS and HIV plagued the world and fear gripped an uneducated and often ill-advised society who labeled those infected as the lepers of our day. Rent also offered an ahead-of-its-time diversity in cast. We've come a long way in 20 years. Or have we?
Rent draws us in, not just to take a peek at friends who are struggling to help each other survive. The story invites us to live with them, understand them, care for them and in the end, love them for who they are and celebrate their differences. Our world can use a big dose of that right now. If you have not seen Rent, let this musical art form transform and enlighten you. You will enjoy the humor, the tenderness, the craziness and especially the energy. If you are a Rent fan returning for more "Seasons of Love", you are in for a treat.
There are a lot of fresh faces and new talent in the touring cast. They certainly need some "youth" to gyrate through some of the theatrics required in this energetic production. For the most part the pipes of the performers did the show justice. It's a demanding production that requires dexterity in body and vocal ability. From time to time, some were not up to the task, laying a flat note here or a sharp tone there. I wouldn't say this was a college level performance, not to say that that some colleges don't turn out some incredible work. I just expected a little more vocal perfection than what was delivered, especially this being the 20th anniversary. With that being said, no harm done. The cast excelled at bringing home the message and maintained a cohesive and vibrant story.
Because the producers made the decision to cast mostly unknown actors as the leads, you should take note how these young actors tackled the job of embodying complicated characters and playing out their very emotional relationships throughout the production.
Sammy Ferber as Mark stayed boyish and low key and was precious in "Tango: Maureen", opposite Jasmine Easler, who was a strong contributor to the show as Maureen's love interest, Joanne. The duet everybody waited for, "Take Me or Leave Me", was intense between Ms Easler and Lyndie Moe, breathing life into Maureen. It's rough for anyone playing a part for which Idina Menzel was so well known. You face being compared to her interpretation. Yet Ms. Moe did a fine job staying true to Maureen's raucous behavior while putting her own spin on it, especially during "Over the Moon", and yes, she did - "moon" that is. Aaron Alcaraz as sweet and optimistic Angel was playful and delightful. AaRon Harrington as Angel's devoted lover Tom Collins was a stand out and arguably had the best voice in the cast. Skyler Volpe was perfect as Mimi - pushy, sexy, yet vulnerable. Kaleb Wells brought to life a passionate Roger singing "One Song Glory". I would have liked handsome Marcus John to step up to the plate a little more as the harassing rent collector. The company's first act closing song, La Vie Boheme brought the audience to their feet for a standing ovation, as did the brilliant finale.
This cast, the storyline, the energy and the deep thoughts that will haunt you for several days are reason enough to see this production. Skip the rent and take a friend or two to the theatre.
Kudos to the Rent cast and staff who took donations after the show to help pay the "rent "of displaced Floridians due to Hurricane Irma. They provided funds matching the audience's contribution.
Rent plays through September 24 in Morsani Hall. Run time is 2 ½ hours with one 15-minute intermission. For more information visit www.strazcenter.org.