The undoubtedly iconic sensational musical that is RENT has returned to Costa Mesa for a very limited engagement. This authentically done new production celebrates 20 years of the Tony Award-winning musical staying true to its original Broadway numbers and retaining its incredibly powerful vocal talents. Those familiar with RENT The Musical, whether the onstage production or the film adaptation, will all love this Work Light Productions version. Staying genuine to itself, with limited adjustments to near zero story changes, RENT 20th ANNIVERSARY TOUR is the definitive tribute to this exuberant and emotional show that millions already cherish. “Forget, regret or life is yours to miss!” If you are reading this now, there are no more excuses to skip this production.
Opening with familiar staging and the obligatory “December 24th, 9pm Eastern Standard Time…”, the struggling artist, Mark Cohen, introduces us to his life and his roommates troubles with rent. Instantly, this duo shines with convincing chemistry and inflection that closely resembles original cast members, Anthony Raap and Adam Pascal. The voicemail beeps and it’s quickly apparent that RENT 20th Anniversary Tour is going to be strong and not let down the countless RENT fans that will be going in droves to see.
Debuting on Broadway in 1996, this little musical forever changed the landscape of American theatre and quickly grew to success. Jonathan Larson’s RENT continues to speak profoundly to new generations and remains strong for repeat theatergoers. Often mentioned as being a re-imagining of Puccini’s La Bohème, RENT follows a year in the lives of seven struggling artists in New York City’s East Village during its Bohemian days of unconventional lifestyles of musical and artistic pursuits, often revolving around protests and standing up for their beliefs. It was a time that HIV/AIDS was rampant and plays a integral part of the lives RENT follows.
Following a year in the life of this colorful cast ensemble, we are met with the familiar characters you are most likely already well-versed with. Starting with Mark Cohen, played by Danny Harris Konfeld who stays true to Raap’s style that everyone expects from this character. He’s as innocent, charming and well-liked as he should be and also delivers impeccable timing this character needs for much of the shows comedy.
Mark’s roommate and friend, Roger Davis, played by Kaleb Wells, delivers a slightly higher pitched vocal performance than Pascal at times and also has sort-of this Daryl from The Walking Dead toughness that feels authentic. While possibly the least flawless performance, I feel like he felt more real than past versions I’ve seen or heard.
Mimi, club dancer and drug addict who becomes involved with Roger, is played brilliantly and stronger-than-ever by Skyler Volpe who brings the house down with an epic performance of “Out Tonight”. Singing “Light My Candle” ever-so-slightly different, her mannerisms and performance is out of this world and brought the audience to cheers.
Mark’s flirtatious ex-girlfriend, Maureen, has always been a difficult role to compete with Idina Menzel’s performance, but Katie Lamark has hit it out of the park! Usually such a role must be made its own and requires a strong improvisational-like feel as its typically the most comedic performance. Lamark is no exception and was able to prompt the audience to give the most thunderous “Moo” I could ever imagine. Her girlfriend, Joanne, also has an equally as strong performance by Jasmine Easler. Their “Take Me or Leave Me” is just as big, sexual, and mesmerizing as one could want from the two.
Benny, a yuppie scum and a sell-out to the rest of his friends, is far more ‘douchie’ than his films counterpart. Played from a strong performance by Christian Thompson, Benny remains as the hated ex-roommate wanting to take over his former close-friends building to make a tech driven studio. I still find his possible past involvement with Mimi odd, but more fitting than if he was played as a more stand-up, reasonable character as the film. I guess it’s possible their lives still cross paths, but feel this storyline that has remained since Broadway makes more sense to be omitted like in the film.
This leaves me with the “computer genius, teacher, and vagabond anarchist who ran naked through the Parthenon” Tom Collins and his love Angel, street percussionist and young transgender that always is the life of the party. Collins, who is played by Aaron Harrington, has that deep Jesse L. Martin voice we have come to know and is as vocally strong as one would want throughout all his epic solos. David Merino delivers an invigorating and infectious performance as Angel. Staying incredibly animated and as ferocious as ever, Merino’s performance will have your butt cheeks moving to the beat of his “drum”. Yes, I had to maintain my composure during “Today 4 U”.
It’s clearly obvious that I enjoyed everyones performance from their vocals to their dancing, to everyones onstage chemistry to their individuality in the roles; this RENT production is second to none and I can honestly say that I was captivated by it all. The band remains tucked away in the corner onstage for all to see and the stage design remains refreshingly stagnant, having the focus stay on the cast members superb performances. While, as a whole, I really don’t need to complain of anything, but with the first Act being so dominant with numerous hits and wildly upbeat numbers, the second Act does suffer from some long repeated themes that could benefit from some cut lyrics. However, this is an anniversary show so it makes sense for it to stay as close to the original as possible.
RENT is one of the first musicals I listened to apart from seeing it live. Its one of those shows that I heard so much of before ever seeing it that just hearing any of the songs live, gives me goosebumps. I realize that not everyone seeing this show will experience this, but when a production is so similar to it’s Broadway cast recordings, one cannot deny that this is anything less than astonishing. This emotional show with themes of the importance of love, friends, and living each day to its fullest should hold true to everyone. Whether if you are only semi-familiar with RENT or not at all, this is a universal theme that we should all encompass. It’s surely not for those that aren’t the most open-minded, but at its core it should open doors for those that have lived with them locked for so long. With that, I am going to leave you with my same closing as my first review for RENT; what are you waiting for… there is “no day but today”.
RENT 20th ANNIVERSARY TOUR is now playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts through Sunday, Jan. 8th and remains on tour throughout the year. For ticket details, visit SCFTA.org.