Friday, January 09, 2009

Rent: The Broadway Tour

RENT: THE BROADWAY TOUR’ will do well on its journey

Three shows are the trail-blazers of the American musical theatre. ‘OKLAHOMA,’ the first book musical, ‘HAIR,’ the tribal rock musical, and ‘RENT,’ the picture of “America at the end of the Millennium.” Each moved the musical format ahead and fulfilled the concept that art is representative of the era from which it comes. This means that by looking at the artistic productions of any time period, you get a glimpse of what the attitudes, beliefs, political and social movements were in vogue at the time.

In 1943, with WWII raging, ‘OKLAHOMA” mirrored the need for reality rather than just the mindless escapism of early musical stagings. It represented the attitudes of a changing world and started a trend to use the musical as a vehicle to examine society.

‘HAIR’ was an anti-war, anti-establishment, break the rules snapshot. The production included nudity, long hair, and other “against-the traditional-grain-of-the-times” attitudes.

The turn of the century show-cased ‘RENT.’ It staked out areas that were in “vogue” about ten years ago, like the death sentence of AIDS, drug addiction, homosexuality, transexuality, the plight of the homeless, and the search for purpose. Though some of the issues are presently in a different state, such as the development of the medical cocktail to treat those with AIDS, thus cutting down the number who die from the disease, and a somewhat altered view of homosexuality, the impact of ‘RENT’ can still be felt.

‘RENT,’ inspired by the opera, ‘LA BOHEME, has been to Cleveland five times. But the present production, which was rehearsed here, has a new moniker…’RENT: THE BROADWAY TOUR,” because this version is going to tour.

The excitement about this production centers on three names: Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp and Gwen Stewart. All three were in the original Broadway production, Pascal as Roger, Rapp as Mark and Stewart as the “Seasons soloist.”

The production is well developed by Michael Greif. It is tight, well conceived and nicely paced. Tim Weil, the music supervisor and Steve Skinner, who did the arrangements, wisely toned down the loud and pounding music. The first two times I saw the production in New York I couldn’t understand a word because the music drowned out the lyrics. In this production, fortunately, the music backs up the singers and the words are crystal clear!

The only flaw in this production is Lexi Lawson who portrays Mimi. She is beautiful and has a great singing voice. Unfortunately, she presently lacks the dynamism to grab and hold the role. Hopefully this will improve as she further plays the character.

Besides the three original Broadway cast members, others who stand out are Justin Johnston as Angel, Michael McElroy as Tom Collins and Nicolette Hart as Maureen.

Capsule judgment: The mostly young audience gave the show a standing ovation. They screamed with delight at such songs as “Without You,” “LaVie Boheme/I Should Tell You,” “Will I?,” and one of my favorite songs from any musical, “Seasons of Love.” Whether you like this musical may well be a generational thing, but, that is one of the points of the script.