Summit, NJ-based Work Light Productions, LLC’s energetic 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour of Jonathan Larson’s multiple Tony Award®– and Pulitzer Prize-winning 1996 Off-Broadway and Broadway and 1998 West End rock opera Rent, which will play two high-octane performances today and two more tomorrow at the Durham Performing Arts Center as part of the WRAL Greatest Hits of Broadway at DPAC series, opened last night to enthusiastic applause throughout and a lengthy standing ovation at the final curtain. Both were well deserved.
This show features charismatic characterizations by a young and terrifically talented cast, plus frisky staging of director Evan Ensign — who served as a resident assistant director — and the exuberant dance numbers by associate choreographer Owen Johnston II — who performed multiple roles — in the original Broadway production of Rent, under the direction of Michael Greif, with choreography by Marlies Yearby. The current tour also features the Broadway scenic design by Paul Clay and costume design by Angela Wendt, plus lighting design by Broadway veteran Jonathan Spencer, sound design by Broadway veteran Keith Caggiano, and animated accompaniment by music director and conductor Matthew Demaria (keyboards), associate music director Ben Covello (keyboards and guitar), Jordan Richards (bass), and especially David Malachowski (lead guitar) and Jeff Snider (drums).
Jonathan Larson’s brilliant reimagining of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème is relocated, in place and time, from a bohemian section of Paris in 1837–38 to a rundown modern-day factory — a former music publishing business — located at the corner of 11th Street and Avenue B in the East Village on the East Side of Lower Manhattan in New York City, where the squatters who occupy the top-floor loft have a ring-side view of the rowdy homeless encampment nextdoor. The year is 1996, and the the scourge of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is raging on the mean streets of their decaying neighborhood. Indeed, a number of Larson’s LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and Q for queer or questioning) characters test positive for the HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).
Today, a quarter-century after Rent premiered Off Broadway, another plague — COVID-19 — forces DPAC patrons to show proof of final vaccination at least two weeks previously (or negative COVID-19 test within the past 72 hours) AND wear a mask everywhere on the premises. The characters of Rent could commiserate.
A number of rising stars shine brightly in the tour cast. Understudy Analise Rios, substituting for Aiyana Smash, is a ball of heavenly fire as drug-addicted HIV+ exotic dancer Mimi Márquez, a downstairs neighbor to self-described “pretty-boy frontman” Roger Davis (played by understudy Tommy Kaiser, who was subbing for Coleman Cummings). Roger is an HIV+ walking, talking pity party, afraid to reveal his medical status to Mimi until their AZT (azidothymidine) alarms go off simultanously, triggering a whirlwind romance that has more ups and downs than a Coney Island roller-coaster.
Another rising star is understudy Makenzie Rivera, subbing for Lyndie Moe, as wackadoodle performance artist Maureen Johnson — the former girlfriend of Roger Davis’ roommate, aspiring documentary filmmaker Mark Cohen (J.T. Wood) and now out-and-proud lesbian lover of highly successful Harvard-educated but buttoned-down attorney Joanne Jefferson (portrayed by Rayla Garske). Shafiq Hicks is terrific as part-time philosophy professor, full-time gay activist, and Roger and Mark’s former roommate Tom Collins, who tumbles head over heels — it’s lust-at-first-sight — for drag queen Angel Schunard (played with pizzazz and panache by Javon King, who steals every scene in which Angel struts her stuff). Y.Z. Jasa contributes a vivid cameo as infernally persistant reality-TV showrunner Alexi Darling, who is trying to recruit Mark Cohen as a reporter and cameraman for her sleazy tabloid television show; and Jarred Bedgood is good as Benjamin Coffin III, Roger and Mark’s landlord –who was once their roommate — and Mimi’s once and future lover.
Get your medical documents together and buy your tickets now for Rent: The 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour, which is delighting DPAC patrons today and tomorrow. The quarter-century traveling version of this watershed musical may not be as long lived as the show’s 20th anniversary tour, which first played DPAC in October 2016 and last played there in January 2020.
Jonathan Larson’s RENT: THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY FAREWELL TOUR (In Person at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29th and 30th), presented as part of WRAL Greatest Hits of Broadway at DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham). VIDEOS: https://www.rentontour.net/media and https://www.youtube.com/c/RentOnTour. DPAC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/rent-the-25th-anniversary-farewell-tour-comes-to-dpac-january-28-30-2022. THE PRESENTER: https://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://www.instagram.com/DPACNC/, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and https://www.youtube.com/user/DPACLive. THE TOUR: https://www.rentontour.net/, https://www.worklightproductions.com/current-work/rent, https://www.facebook.com/RentOnTour/, https://www.instagram.com/RentOnTour/, https://twitter.com/RentOnTour, and https://www.youtube.com/RentOnTour. THE TOUR CAST & CREATIVE TEAM: https://rentontour.net/company. THE SHOW: https://www.mtishows.com/rent, http://www.iobdb.com/Production/534, https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/rent-7448, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_(musical). THE SCRIPT (excerpts): https://books.google.com/books. THE COMPOSER, LYRICIST, AND PLAYWRIGHT: http://www.iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/938, https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jonathan-larson-6927, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1170227/, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Larson. TICKETS: $38.50 and up, plus taxes and ticket fees. Click here to buy tickets. GROUPS (10+ tickets): 919-680-2787, Groups@DPACnc.com, and https://www.dpacnc.com/events/groups-services. DIRECTIONS: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/directions. PARKING: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/parking. DPAC COVID-19 REQUIREMENTS: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/vaccination-and-covid-19-test-requirements. INFORMATION: 919-680-2787 or CustomerService@DPACnc.com. Susie Potter’s Review.
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)