This week, the Broadway version of Jonathan Larson's Rent became the 10th longest running show in Broadway history. Following a sold-out limited engagement Off Broadway, the show transferred in April, 1996, to the Nederlander Theatre and won an astounding number of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Best Musical Tony Award. After several U.S. Equity touring productions (and a number worldwide), a non-Equity tour was launched recently and has a busy schedule of U.S. cities through summer. This high-energy show benefits from talented, young performers, and the current tour succeeds quite well in this regard.
With a premise based on the plot of La Boheme, Rent follows a group of young men and women living a 'bohemian' lifestyle in New York City in the 1990s. As amateur videographer Mark Cohen, Brian Gligor has the responsibility of narrating and furthuring the transition of time from scene to scene. Gligor is a likeable, appropriately awkward and high-strung Mark. His performance with Rebecca Jones (Joanne) on "Tango Maureen" is terrific. Mark's roommate Roger Davis (Constantine Maroulis) is recovering from drug rehab and the suicide death of his former girlfriend, as well as dealing with being HIV-positive and the struggle of finding a purpose in life (a struggle he shares with Mark). It seems Roger is always played with constant anguish - a glimmer of a lighter side emerges after Roger develops a relationship with Mimi (Jaime Lee Kirchner), but of course that leads to more anguish. Maroulis' Roger is so distressed, there is pain in every word he says, every note he sings. His delivery is so heavy with suffering, when it comes time for Roger to really express heartache, there's nowhere to go. Dancer and free spirit "old for her age" Mimi is played with great energy by Kirchner. She is outstanding in performing the dancing/writhing required in the song "Out Tonight."
A highlight of this production is Marcus Paul James as Collins singing the "I'll Cover You" reprise in act two - what a powerful and moving performance. Other notable work is provided by Rebecca Jones (Joanne), Damien DeShaun Smith (Angel), Leslie Diamond (Maureen), and Daryl C. Brown (Benny). The ensemble is hardworking and dependable, and they contribute to the quality of this production (with a particularly distinguishable performance by Suzanne Slade).
Rent's score is its strongest point, but unfortunately it is often difficult to appreciate due to the extremely high volume used. The good news is that the volume at Heinz Hall for this production is at a loud but comfortable level, allowing everyone, even those unfamiliar with the score, to enjoy it to its fullest. Being able to enjoy the score makes forgiving of some trite and implausible plot points much easier.
On stage we have the traditional very busy, all-purpose, industrial-themed set. The set, along with the number of cast members often moving on stage, makes careful choregraphed movement essential. This cast hits every mark, making avoiding collisions look easy. The downside to this careful choreography/direction is that individual movements sometimes look unnatural and practiced.
Rent continues through February 8 at Heinz Hall. For ticket information, call 412.456.6666. The tour continues to Houston, Colorado Springs and Las Vegas - for complete schedule, visit siteforrent.com.