RENT: The Broadway Tour visits Orange County!

It’s back!!!  One of the best reviewed and rewarded musicals of the past 15 years has returned to Orange County.  RENT: The Broadway Tour is performing at the Orange County Performing Arts Center for a special one week engagement ending October 25th.  This Tony Award-winning musical has gained a massive following since its debut in 1996 for a reason.  RENT with its dark subjects of AIDS and death remains exhilarating and stimulating.  If you haven’t seen this emotional musical by now, this is the time!

Original Broadway production and film adaptation stars Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp have reprised their roles as broke roommates Roger and Mark.  Pascal has gone back to his original haircut in the performance and Mark hasn’t changed since I first heard the music or saw him in the film.  Opening night was filled with great anticipation and thunderous applause.  It goes without saying that a ticket to RENT will guarantee award-winning music, powerful acting and an emotional story.

Being a little less knowing of than the average fans of RENT, I was a bit curious how the stage presentation would compare to my thoughts of the film adaptation.  I heard the original music roughly 8 years ago and have always been interested in seeing the live performance.  In fact, I was thrilled for a chance to see the film adaptation since it didn’t seem that I would be making it to the stage production anytime soon.  Unfortunately, I was slightly disappointed with the film compared to opinions of the show I had heard prior.  I will assure those who have only seen the movie that the live production is far superior to its Hollywood counterpart.

The time had finally arrived.  I was patiently waiting in my seat for the first actor to walk out on stage.  I expected so much from the show not realizing the capability it actually had.  Without any dimming of the lighting or any instrumental intro, Pascal walked onto stage with an enormous applause quickly followed by Rapp to an even louder cheer of hoots and hollers.  It was at this moment the goose bumps and continuous smile on my face would begin.  The voicemail played after the notorious “SPEEEAAKK” answering machine message followed by the all too familiar tune of the song “Rent”.  Before I could catch my breath I was already singing along in my head with the realization I was witnessing one of the greatest musicals of all time.

If I sound a little too enthusiastic about this experience it’s because I was.  By the first act I was shocked…  speechless…  I couldn’t believe what I have been missing.  This show is still worth seeing again if you have seen the show with a different cast.  Pascal and Rapp were fantastic.  Plus, it’s pretty cool seeing the same actors that starred in the show originally and in the film.  Let’s be real.  It was the whole cast that made the production feel so passionate though.

Justin Johnston plays Angel, the drag queen dressing street musician, and was part of the closing cast of RENT.  He throws a little bit of his own touches along to some of the overly energetic scenes the character is known for.  His “Today 4 U” was hilarious and wildly entertaining.  However, I am basing my opinions off comparing the film to the stage production and the cast recording of the show.  This makes my review difficult as I have no basis to relate what I viewed Tuesday night.

Michael McElroy retains the deep voice and tall attributes of Tom Collins.  His performance was just as fantastic as the rest.  Lexi Lawson who plays Mimi, a junkie that falls for Roger, and Haneefah Wood who plays Joanne, one of the leading lesbians in the show, do a fine job but nothing to worth reporting.  Nicolette Hart’s performance of Maureen, the ex-girlfriend turned lesbian of Mark’s and complete flirt, was stupendous.  I have not heard a better “Over the Moon” performance.  Her infamous scene with the “mooing” was absolutely hilarious and showed some true talent.  Hart goes completely over-the-top and completely pulls it off.  It was noted by a friend whom I trust far more with vocal critiques that Hart’s vocals may have not been the strongest, but her overall performance outweighed any sort of vocal flaw.

I admit that I am not the greatest when it comes to recognizing poor vocals although I know what I enjoy.  Any of these vocal issues may not be noticeable to the common theater-goers.  There were no problems toward any of the vocals to my ears.  Several of the original music arrangements are sung differently than many people may be familiar with.   The stage production music is far less commercialized and feels truer.

The traditional band on-stage tucked away in the corner remains and the sets stray true to past productions.  RENT remains just as powerful with a moral that will remain timeless even with the early 90’s settings.  The chore of the show will always stay the same.  The audience cheered along the entire production with many tears shed and lots of laughs chuckled.  Even though I may be unknowledgeable toward past productions of RENT, I am still comfortable with saying this was just as spectacular.  There really is no point in reading this however as it is impossible to comprehend the power this musical contains unless you are there in person.  What are you waiting for… there is “no day but today”.

Tickets are $20-$70 and are available at OCPAC.org, the Center’s Box Office or by calling (714) 556-2787.  In keeping with the vision of the musicals creator, Jonathon Larson, $20 tickets are available everyday 2 hours before curtain with a limit of 2 per person.  Cash only.

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