Jonathan Larson’s Rent, which focuses on the lives of several twenty-somethings living the bohemian life in New York City in 1989, has long been a theatrical staple. And, with its colorful, true-to-life characters and universal themes, it’s easy to see why. The 20th Anniversary Tour of the musical, onstage now at Durham Performing Arts Center under the direction of Evan Ensign based on original direction by Michael Greif, is still incredibly touching and perhaps even more charming due to the throwback, vintage feel it now possesses.
The repurposed, rundown industrial loft that Mark (Cody Jenkins) and Roger (Coleman Cummings) share is beautifully realized on the DPAC stage. Created to be bold and eye-catching, the loft’s design serves as a constant reminder that this show is about the place we call home and about the looming price we all must pay for our time on this earth.
Of course, that’s not to say that this musical is all doom and gloom. No, part of the charm of Rent is that, alongside its darker themes, there’s tons of humor and real, really imperfect characters to fall in love with, and the first act introduces viewers to them all.
There’s Roger, who, as is the case with many of the characters in this musical, has AIDS. He’s seeking to write one great song that will outlive him and carry on his legacy. Coleman’s sensitive portrayal of this beloved character is on-point, and he nails Roger’s haunting “One Song Glory” with power and intensity. This musical number is made even more profound and touching by the choice to “light” it with a single shadow, looming largely behind Roger as he sings.
There’s also sweet, sassy Mimi, enthusiastically portrayed by Aiyana Smash. Smash is wonderfully sultry, especially when she belts out “Out Tonight,” a wild ride of a musical number that features gyrating, frenzied, and absolutely perfect choreography from Marlies Yearby. And, as Mimi is busy meeting and, eventually, falling for Roger, another friend, Collins (Shafiq Hicks), is busy meeting and falling for Angel (Joshua Tavares).
Hicks proves to be an absolutely perfect Collins. He’s kind, loving, and strong in all the right places, and when he belts out “I’ll Cover You” in the second act, his deep voice and the passion behind it create a chilling, emotional, and ultimately unforgettable moment, one of the true highlights of this production. Of course, Tom can’t shine quite as bright without his perfect counterbalance, Angel, and Tavares is up for the job, smiling and sashaying to create an Angel that’s every bit as fabulous as the audience needs him to be.
Many other characters make up this story as well. There’s old-friend Benjamin Coffin III (Juan Luis Espinal), who is trying to take back Mark and Roger’s loft; Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen, delightfully portrayed by Kelsee Sweigard, and her new girlfriend Joanne (Samantha Mbolekwa); and a whole host of other people who move in and out as viewers immerse themselves in a “year in a life” of these flawed but unforgettable people.
As the second act opens, longtime Rentheads know that sadder moments are ahead. But, that doesn’t stop “Seasons of Love” from being just as effective as ever. At this production, soloist Rayla Garske added a special flair and intensity to the familiar number, making it feel new and hard-hitting once again. And, as the story winds to its difficult but hopeful conclusion, everything comes together, and everyone remembers (or realizes for the first time) why they love this show: it’s just got so much love and heart behind it, and, as the script tells us all so clearly, that’s ultimately what endures.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 29th Raleigh, NC Triangle Review review by Dawn Reno Langley: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2020/01/rent-rocks-dpac-once-again-jan-28-feb-2/.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents RENT: 20TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 and 30, 8 p.m. Jan. 31, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 1, and 1 and 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $34.50-$89.50, plus taxes and fees. Click here to enter the digital lottery for $25 tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369510/2212138.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkGwDMfEHG_gakuxAF59ciA/videos.
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/rent-20th-anniversary-tour-returns-to-dpac-due-to-popular-demand.
THE TOUR: https://www.rentontour.net/, https://www.facebook.com/RentOnTour, https://www.instagram.com/rentontour/, https://twitter.com/rentontour, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkGwDMfEHG_gakuxAF59ciA.
TOUR CAST & CREATIVE TEAM: https://www.rentontour.net/#s-company.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://www.instagram.com/dpacnc/, https://twitter.com/DPAC, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center, and https://www.youtube.com/user/DPACLive.
Rent (1996 Off-Broadway and Broadway and 1998 West End rock opera):https://www.rentontour.net/ (official tour website), http://www.mtishows.com/rent (Music Theatre International), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/534 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/rent-7448 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_(musical) (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Jonathan Larson (White Plains, NY-born composer, lyricist, and playwright, 1960-96): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jonathan-Larson (Encyclopædia Britannica), http://swirsky.tripod.com/jonathan.html (unofficial site by Chris Matthias), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/938 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jonathan-larson-6927 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1170227/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Larson (Wikipedia).
Rent (2005 film):http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/rent/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0294870/ (Internet Movie Database), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/624677/Rent/ (Turner Classic Movies), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_(film) (Wikipedia).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.triangleartsreview.com/, http://www.susiepotter.com, and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.