The rock musical “Rent,” which premiered Off-Broadway in 1996, was the “Hamilton” of its day. It was so popular that it gathered followers who were so obsessed with the show that they were known as RENT-heads. Ironically,”Hamilton” creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda credits “Rent” as being his primary source of inspiration Regarded as the “Hair” for Gen-Exers,“ The Tony Award for Best Musical and Pulitzer Prize-winning “Rent” is now being introduced to new generations through the 20th Anniversary tour production, presented by Broadway in Indianapolis. It opened Tuesday at Clowes Memorial Hall on the campus of Butler University.
I saw the original production at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City right after it moved from its original New York Theatre Workshop venue. In the ensuing years, I have seen two touring productions and a superb Footlite Musicals Young Adults Production in 2012. Consequently, I was already quite familiar with Jonathan Larson’s opus based loosely on Puccini’s opera “La bohème.” It’s about a year in the lives of seven poverty-stricken artists, living in the East Village’s Alphabet City in NYC. They struggle to fulfill their dreams without compromising their ideals, all the while falling in love, finding their artistic voices and living in the moment. It’s also a story about trying to make it the big city while living under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.
Given my exposure to the various productions mentioned previously, I decided that prior to reviewing this newest version that I see it with no expectations and remain open minded. I am pleased to report that not only was I happily surprised, I was also thoroughly engaged with this Work Light Productions effort directed by Evan Ensign.
Though not exactly a period piece,“Rent” with its dated props including a pay phone and Marc’s 16mm film camera, references to answering machines, focus on HIV/AIDS which is no longer the death sentence it once was and drag which is now fairly mainstream, does show its age. But it holds up well, not only because off its timeless, universal themes but also because of Larson’s dynamic rock score and poetic lyrics.
Most importantly, this production owes its success to the exceptional caliber of a seasoned cast that is uniformly gifted. Most notable for their vocal, dance and dramatic talent were the show’s leads, which included Logan Farine (Roger), Logan Marks (Marc), Divinre Adams (Tom Collins) Marcus John (Benny), Lencia Kebede (Joanne), Javon King (Angel), Deri’ Andra Tucker (Mimi) and Lyndie Moe (Maureen).
Standing out for strong performances were Farine as frustrated rock musician Roger in “One Song Glory,” King as charismatic Angel in “Today 4 U,” and Moe as ballsy Maureen in a spectacular rendition of “Over The Moon.”
A highlight of the show took place at the top of Act 2 when the entire cast sang “Seasons of Love.” For me, the memory of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland, Fla.) theatre student’s achingly moving performance of the song on Sunday’s Tony Awards telecast was still fresh. The song’s lyrics that ask what the proper way is to quantify the value of a year in human life with its conclusion that the most effective way is to “measure with love.” made the entire experience of seeing this superb revival of “Rent,” a richly rewarding experience and one I highly recommend.
The “Rent” 20th Anniversary Tour will play Indianapolis through June 17. The performance schedule is Wednesday & Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Friday & Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. “Saturday matinee at 2 pm, Sunday matinee at 1 p.m., and Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available in person at Clowes Memorial Hall, the Old National Centre Ticket Office, online at BroadwayinIndianapolis.com, or by phone at 1-800-982-2787.