RENT Is More Relevant Now Then Ever
Michael J. Roberts Michael S. Steiner
One of the most frequently asked questions posed to a revival of a musical is in regards to its current social relevance. Whether that is a fair question is a debate for another day. After attending opening night of the 20th Anniversary tour of RENT at the Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts in Orlando, it is obvious from the sold out crowd and instant standing ovation that Jonathan Larson’s updated ode to La Boheme is perhaps more relevant now than ever.The death of the show’s creator/composer the night before the first Off-Broadway preview is now part of musical theatre lore and is also embedded into latency of the piece every time the actors step out to begin a performance. That spiritual latency was evident when I had the privilege of attending the final Broadway preview performance at the Nederlander Theatre and remains an important part of the inherent message of RENT, which made stars of its cast which lived through the ordeal.
Many critics contend that RENT is dated because of its focus on HIV/AIDS in the early 1990’s and the gypsy lifestyle of its New York City artistic warehouse district dwellers. That is a ridiculous notion as any musical is dated by its very nature and determining relevance by time decries the essence of what art strives to be.
As this tour is reaching its end after well over a year on the road, it is clear that RENT is alive and well thanks to its impeccable cast and musicians. It is a cast that is performing in the moment and has taken the time to flush out the truth of their characters.
After viewing many incarnations of the Broadway casts and various tours after the past two decades, other than Ms. Rubin-Vega from the original company, there has been no finer Mimi than the current Deri’ Andra Tucker’s emotionally complex performance. Coupled with Ms. Tucker’s on stage chemistry with the equally powerful Logan Farine as Roger is the emotionally bedrock of what Puccini strived for in the original opera.
And make no mistake, RENT is very much an opera in its character scope. Mark (a spot on Logan Marks) documents a year in the life of his friends while navigating his own guilt of surviving the HIV/AIDS epidemic invading his community. At the same time he is coming to grips with his activist girlfriend, Maureen (vocally powered by Lyndie Moe) dumping him for a civil rights attorney, Joanne (embodied in Lencia Kebede’s no nonsense performance).
Though the fluidity of the second act has always been a point of contention as it was unfinished due to Mr. Larson’s death, it ironically serves to drive home the essence of the musical. Nowhere is that seen more vividly than in the performances of Devinre Adams (Tom Collins) and Javon King (Angel) who pull no stops and leave the audience in quite audible sobs as Angel succumbs to the virus leaving his partner to carry on the love he inspired.
RENT is also one of the few musicals in the last two decades whose score transcended its theatre bounds with Seasons of Love, Glory, Out Tonight, and La Vie Boheme all becoming well known commodities outside of the show.
The brilliance of RENT is how it is able to comment on society since at its core the message is not about art, artisans or habitat. RENT is a warning regarding the short time we have on this planet and how each of us has a responsibility to leave this world in a better place with no regrets. In that respect, the relevancy of Mr. Larson and RENT is forever.
The 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT plays through June 10th at the Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts, 445 S Magnolia Ave, Orlando, FL. For more information including performance times and tickets visit drphillipscenter.org. For more information on the tour, visit RentTour.net