My friend and I had never sent Rent, and we were definitely among few in the audience who had not. On Wednesday night the Orpheum Theatre was full of enthusiastic fans who greeted the entrance of each beloved character with wild cheering and applause. We both came away somewhat confused about what all the fuss was about—although I did thoroughly enjoy the show.
Rent is based on the opera La Boheme. It tells the story of struggling songwriter Roger and filmmaker Mark, who are living on the top floor of a building in New York with no electricity or heat. Former roommate Benny has sold out to the corporate world and now wants to redevelop the building into a high-tech arts studio. The redevelopment would impact them as well as a group of homeless living in a tent city in the lot next door. Jonathan Larson wrote the book, music, and lyrics and the play opened in New York in 1996, running for 12 years. Larson worked on Rent for seven years while waiting tables but died of a brain aneurysm less than a month before it opened.
|rent, a musical by jonathan larson. presented through march 29 at the orpheum theatre, 910 hennepin ave., minneapolis. for tickets and information, see hennepintheatredistrict.org.|
The entire cast of the touring production is outstanding. Anthony Rapp (Mark) and Adam Pascal (Roger) did a fine job in the roles they originated 13 years ago. They reunited for the movie version in 2006, and now for this touring production. I think that the draw for the audience was the history they shared with these actors after having seen them in these roles before. The actors’ voices are strong and you can see the friendship they’ve developed over years of performing together. The other original cast member appearing in this production is Gwen Stewart, best known as the soloist on “Seasons of Love (Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes…),” the musical’s most well-known song. She has an amazing voice and a commanding presence on the stage. As Maureen, Nicolette Hart delivers what was the hit of the show for me: her performance art piece “Over the Moon.” One of the fans of the show who sat behind me said that this Maureen was the best of the three she has seen. I was also impressed and entertained by the voice and athletic moves of Justin Johnson as Angel, the cross-dressing friend of Roger and Mark.
Lexi Lawson, playing Roger’s love interest, is disappointing. According to my friend, who is a musician, Lawson sang out of tune on her first number, “Out Tonight.” You couldn’t prove that by me; I think she might have been distracted, trying not to fall off the top of the set as she performed amazing dance moves and gyrations on what was built as a fire escape. What I think she was lacking was any chemistry with Roger.
The multi-dimensional set was well-designed and well-used, the costumes were fun, the band was solid and most of the singing was top-notch. My friend and I agreed, though, that the whole thing was too loud—that made the lyrics hard to understand for those of us not familiar with the songs. I asked another friend who saw the show that night and who has seen Rent several times; she agreed that this particular production is uncomfortably loud.
As the 1990s fade into the past, Rent is increasingly becoming a period piece. “When you are living in America at the end of the millennium,” go the lyrics to one song, “you’re what you own.” That said, poverty, drug addiction, and intolerance are still with us—and if you have not seen Rent, you should.
Jean Gabler is program manager for undergraduate business programs at the University of St. Thomas.