Thursday, January 12, 2017

Rent and its origins

20th Anniversary Tour of Rent
Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard

Rent photos by Carol Rosegg

If you are of a certain age it is difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that Jonathan Larson’s Rent is 20 years old. In fact, many of the enthusiastic screamers seated behind me at the January 11 Civic Theatre opening of the anniversary tour looked as if they were hardly dry behind the ears even now, let alone in 1996.
Skyler Volpe as Mimi and Kaleb Wells as Roger

These rabid fans, though more rabid than I ever was, seem to prove that Larson, who died on the eve of the musical’s off-Broadway opening, was in touch with the future. He celebrated Rent’s “bohemian” past in an updated scenario based very loosely upon Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera, La bohème, lifting characters, melodies and situations and coloring them with a rock score.

 Danny Harris Kornfeld as Mark and Kaleb Wells as Roger
Where the opera concerns a group of impoverished young artists living in a Parisian garret, struggling to create lasting art and pay the rent, and suffering from the ravages of tuberculosis; Rent concerns a group of young artists living together in a New York City warehouse, struggling to pay the rent, succeed, and suffering from poverty and the modern scourge of AIDS.

Larson revisited the struggles and the camaraderie of La bohème’s characters, capturing their joie de vivre despite the specter of death and enlivening it with such songs such as Roger’s (Kaleb Wells) poignant melody trying to be born, “One Song Glory,” which borrows from “Musetta’s Waltz”; Mimi (Skyler Volpe) and Roger’s “Light My Candle”; Mark (Danny Harris Kornfeld) and Maureen’s (Katie Lamark) “Tango: Maureen”; and Maureen and Joanne’s (Jasmine Easler) “Love Me or Leave Me.” Larson wrote the glorious ensemble number “Without You,” which reflects numerous good-byes, including the poignant farewell of the transvestite, Angel (David Merino), whose lover is Collins (Aaron Harrington), based on the opera's Colline character. Then he tops all with the great ensemble number, “Seasons of Love.”

David Merino as Angel
The company is splendid in the singing and looks department and they are backed up by Samuel Bagala (conductor/keyboards), Zach Sicherman (assistant conductor/keyboards/guitar), David Malachowski (guitar), Kris Rogers (bass), and Jeff Snider (drums). The sound system behaves and the balance is good, though the words were never understandable due to the decibel level. 

Look for the traditional set (original designer Paul Clay), an immense warehouse cluttered with bicycles and various detritus with an additional playing area upstairs. Evan Ensign directs based on the original by Michael Greif.

Catch this fine production of Rent (Tony Award for Best Musical and Pulitzer Prize for Drama) through Sunday, Jan. 15 at 6:30 pm.

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