THEATER REVIEW: Rent Is Still Worth the Money

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It’s been thirteen years since the Pulitzer Prize winning rock musical Rent took Broadway by storm. Jonathan Larson’s masterpiece exploring then-taboo themes interlaced with Puccini’s La Boheme was an instant success for its well-crafted songs, diverse and complex characters and powerful messages about a bunch of artists in New York dealing with life, death and relationships. In 2009, Rent is seeing resurgence as original Broadway (and film) performers, Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, Roger and Mark respectively, take the show on the road.

Rent recently stopped through Washington D.C., and I was very curious to see how the show would hold up live after all these years. I’ve seen Rent, the play version, four times and the movie on several occasions. I can say with all certainty that no matter whether you are a new fan or old Rent-head, you will love this company’s performance.

To start, watching Rapp dive into the role he’s most known for is alone worth the price of admission. He feels so comfortable as Mark that I think he’s only gotten better as the years have gone on, and the energy and passion he puts in each and every time is nothing short of a delight. This is not to overshadow Pascal who is also fantastic, it’s simply that Rapp is allowed to have more fun with his character and it shows.

On many occasions I’ve had people see Rent for the first time live and criticize, quite fairly, that it’s hard to follow. I fully agree with this notion, and I usually suggest a listen to the CD (or the movie), before going to the theater. But this company has really strived to make a strong improvement in this category. I noticed something for the first time with this cast, and it was their incredible annunciation. The lyrics come very, very fast and so I understand that the dialogue can be hard to catch, however every actor and actress makes a concerted effort to ensure every word is heard, and it was something I think most audiences will appreciate.

While Rapp and Pascal are clearly the stars, the rest of the company do very well in keeping up. Most notably are Justin Johnson as Angel, and Lexi Lawson (a former American Idol contender) as Mimi. Both have incredible talent in dancing and singing, especially when they are doing them at the same time. When you see the moves they perform, it will astound you they continue to hold a tune.  Also I should note that the Seasons of Love soloist, Gwen Stewart, is an original cast member as well and is still beyond incredible.

There’s really not much audiences won’t love from this tour of Rent. If there’s a misstep at all, it’s found in Jacques C. Smith’s performance of Benny who plays his character more over-the-top than is usually seen. It just appeared to me that he was trying too hard to be noticed and came off as silly for being the main antagonist.

Beyond that very minor point, Rent is still a triumph. Don’t think you can’t get tickets either if you’re just now deciding to go. In keeping with the tradition of Rent, several “rush” tickets will be sold for most performances, meaning that you can try standing in line the day of the show and entering your name into a lottery to try and win seats for that day’s performance. To see if Rent is coming to a theater near you soon check:

Go see Rent with this amazing cast if you can!

Final Grade: A

EM Review
By Christopher Troilo
Originally Posted 5.29.2009