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Rent | The Fabulous Fox Theater

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play_rent.jpg I would soon learn that, though the movie was great, it could never hold a candle to the live musical.

 

 

 

 

 

Book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Direction by Michael Greif
Costume design by Angela Wendt

In 1943, Rodgers and Hammerstein changed the world of Broadway musicals with their release of Oklahoma!, often called "the Great American Musical." The production was significant in that for the first time the music and dance was used to actually convey the characters' emotions and the plot of the story. Until then, musicals consisted of acting, with song and dance numbers as intermissions between the plot segments. This format of musicals has been the mainstay ever since.

More than 50 years later, Jonathan Larson would use this style to tell the story of Rent, a sad but hopeful tale of struggling artists and musicians in New York City's East Bohemian Village dealing with poverty, drug addiction, and AIDS in the late 1980s. Using rock music and sounds to tell a modern adaptation of Giacomo Puccini's opera La Boheme, Larson created a show that not only spoke to Generation X, but screamed at them. Crossing the lines of gender, race, and sexual orientation, Rent has become one of the most important cultural vehicles in the last 30 years.

To the Rent-heads out there, I must apologize that I was first introduced to Rent through the big-screen motion picture version of the musical. So, walking into the Fox Theatre, I really did not know what to expect from the live version. I would soon learn that, though the movie was great, it could never hold a candle to the live musical.

From the start, the show was strong. Jed Resnick played Mark with charisma that reached all the way up to the mezzanine where I was sitting. The Company came on with lots of energy as they performed title song. A few numbers later, the emotionally delicate "Light My Candle" was sung true by Mimi and Roger, played by Jennifer Colby Talton and South African Idol winner Heinz Winckler. Talton would come on strong again in Mimi's solo number, "Out Tonight," a provocative song of female sexuality that seemed to be a call to arms for the women in the audience as they howled their approval. Another fan favorite was Angel's solo, played by Kristen-Alexzander Griffith. Though the performance was very strong, I heard several audience member murmur that the drumming was a bit abbreviated than usual. The rest of Act One was brilliant and inspired many of us in the audience to tap our feet, wiggle in our seats, and sing along as we liked.

Act Two started with an awe-inspiring performance of the theme of Rent, "Seasons of Love," by the whole Company. "Seasons" was highlighted by an especially strong solo by Mimi Jiminez. The energy level established by the first song of the act would be carried on through out the second half of the show. "Take Me or Leave Me," a duet between Maureen and Joanne (played by Christine Dwyer and Onyie Nwachukwu), stood out and helped set the tone for the darker, heavy-hearted feel of the second half. Former American Idol contestant Anwar F. Robinson sung a remarkably emotional rendition of "I'll Cover You: Reprise" as his character, Tom Collins, mourns the death of his lover Angel. Though Robison is not the baritone most have come to expect from the role, his performance was still stellar.

It is a necessity to praise the orchestra for Rent. Led by conductor/keyboardist Jeremy Randall, the four-member group performed each arrangement flawlessly and on cue. Their perfect performance allowed the personalities of the show to do their jobs and focus on singing the songs as best they could. The whole show is a masterly designed machine that is a sum of all its parts. It is perfect because everyone is in synch; everyone is in synch because it is perfect.

The part of the show that can not be over looked is the fans. Rent has a strong following, and enjoying the show with a theater full of faithful Rent-heads is part of the experience. With everyone seeming to already know at least some—if not all—of the show, going to see Rent is like hanging out with a few thousand of your closest friends. Watching and hearing the audience reaction makes it clear that Rent reaches out and touches a modern audience much more than singing cowboys do. It tells a story that anyone who has ever been in love or lost a love one can relate to. Rent has taken the mantle of the Great American Musical. | Ryan Parker

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