Also see Scott's recent review of Macabaret
The high-powered musical Rent makes a return trip to the tri-state area in the current non-equity national tour as a season extra of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati Series at the Aronoff Center and remains an emotional, moving, and rocking piece of gritty theater.
Rent is the modern retelling of La Boheme and follows one year in the lives of the counter-culture residents of Alphabet City in New York City in the mid-1990s. While trying to overcome the obstacles of poverty, AIDS, drug addiction, and bloated egos, the eight central characters still reach for dreams and form bonds of lasting friendship.
The musical is the work of the late Jonathan Larson, who died unexpectedly at the age of 35 just days before the show started previews Off-Broadway. Mr. Larson never got to see the numerous accolades that his show would garner, including the 1996 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book, and the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The almost completely sung-through musical features an effective mix of rock and pop sounds that capture the raw emotion and sometimes desperation of the characters. The songs are tuneful and memorable, ranging from the highly melodic such as "Seasons Of Love" and "I'll Cover You" to the soulful "One Song Glory". The score fits well into the theatrical context of the show as well. The book introduces unique, yet believable characters and uses humor, tragedy, and numerous other devices to produce an entertaining and gripping story.
As Mark, the video photographer making a documentary about life in Alphabet City, University of Cincinnati - College Conservatory of Music graduate Dominic Bogart turns in a winning performance. He supplies the necessary manic energy for the role, sings capably, and brings added depth to the character due to his fine acting. Kevin Spencer receives kudos for his singing as the tortured Roger, but his awkward mannerisms somewhat distract from his portrayal of the HIV infected rocker. As the wild drug addict Mimi, Krystal L. Washington moves with an amazing level of grace and flexibility and possesses a strong and natural singing voice suitable for the role. Sara Schatz and Bridget Anne Mohammed respectively appear as Maureen and Joanne, the constantly fighting lesbian couple, and both sing powerfully and are especially strong in the more humorous aspects of their roles. Bruce Wilson Jr. fulfills the acting requirements of the anarchist Tom Collins well, but his vocal range limits his effectiveness on the lower notes. He does, however, sing with soulful zest in the higher range. As Angel, the cross-dressing performance artist, Justin Rodriguez deserves special praise for his dynamic acting and natural high tenor singing and is one of the show's highlights. Matthew S. Morgan is the least convincing of the principals as Benny, due to overacting and somewhat muddled singing. The other performers play multiple roles and display their obvious talents throughout the musical.
This tour of Rent again boasts Michael Greif as Director. Mr. Greif won numerous awards as Best Director for the show and for good reason. He brings the complex book to the stage through fluid movement and imaginative storytelling while maintaining the human qualities that are central to the plot. The choreography by Marlies Yearby is adequate and fun. David Pepin leads an energetic and talented five-piece band.
The design for the tour likewise duplicates that of the Broadway production. The environmental set by Paul Clay is multi-useful and fits the tone of the piece well. The costumes by Angela Wendt are appropriate and attractive. Blake Burba's lighting design is very strong and effective.
The current national tour of Rent as presented at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, Ohio possesses a strong and talented cast and the show remains entertaining and moving. The musical continues through November 4, 2001. Call (513) 241-7469 for tickets.