Since 1996, Rent has played over 2,300 performances on Broadway and there have been countless performances across the country. Once again, the Washington area is hosting the touring production which is playing this week at The Warner Theatre.
Loosely based on La Bohéme, Rent tells the story of a group of bohemian artists who live in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. Mark and Roger, the centerpieces of the show, are roommates who live in a meager apartment in Alphabet City. Roger, an HIV-positive musician, meets his match in Mimi, an exotic dancer with a drug habit. HIV-positive as well, Mimi shows Roger the importance of living for the day. All the while, Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, captures the lives of Roger, Mimi, and the rest of his friends on film. As time goes on and their lives change, these people become more than just friends. They evolve into a family.
For veteran audiences of this hit show, Rent gives one the feeling that they are revisiting an old friend. Jonathan Larson's excellent book and score, though now a bit dated, still fails to disappoint. Unfortunately, this cast doesn't measure up to the fine material that Mr. Larsen has provided for them.
Individually, these actors may be very enjoyable performers, but together they never quite manage to form the cohesive group that is such an essential element of the piece. Even the interactions between Roger and Mimi lack the chemistry necessary for the relationship to work. Fortunately, there are a few shining lights in this cast. Kevin Spencer as the wounded Roger conjures up memories of Adam Pascal while bringing some of his own unique qualities to the role. Additionally, Sara Schatz is wonderful as Maureen, the outrageous yet socially conscience performance artist. Schatz has both the talent and the presence to pull off this commanding role.
As a whole, this production seems uneven. Some scenes are stronger than others. There also seems to be a pacing problem. There were several occurrences where an actor either stepped on their cue or came in a beat too late.
However, despite the problems with this production, Rent still holds up in 2001. One can't help but get caught up in the excitement of "La Vie Bohéme" or experience a little shiver at the raw emotion Collins conveys while singing "I'll Cover You." Happily, Jonathan Larson's legacy to the theater-going public continues, as does his message to the world ... "No day but today."
Rent has a limited run through November 18th.
The Warner Theatre