Posts Tagged ‘rent the musical’

Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Directed by Lili-Anne Brown
Choreographed by Breon Arzell
The Muny
August 5, 2023

Lincoln Clauss (Center) and Cast of Rent
The Muny

If someone had told me 15 years ago that I would eventually be seeing Rent at the Muny, I’m not sure if I would have believed them. But now, it’s here, and it’s great.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning show that took Broadway by storm in the 1990’s is now onstage in Forest Park, in a vibrant, terrifically cast production that serves as a good introduction to the show for those who haven’t seen it before, as well as highlighting the strengths of the story for those who already know and love it. 

This Rent may not please some die-hard purists, considering it doesn’t have the classic look of the Broadway show, and some of the grittier elements have been toned down a bit for the Muny stage. Still, this production was obviously made by people who love this show, and it is the relationships and the emotion that shine through in this new production that brings an immediacy and energy to the story that, even with its mid-90’s setting, feels fresh and vibrant for today’s audiences. The story, with its inspiration from Puccini’s opera La Bohème and focus on struggling artists and others in New York City’s East Village, is very much of its time, but it doesn’t seem as dated as I had been expecting. This version has also been scaled to fit the Muny’s huge stage, with an excellent multilevel set by Arnel Sanciano that represents the neighborhood with vivid detail. There’s also fantastic use of video design by Paul Deziel, featuring images from the era as well as the films recorded by one of the leading characters, aspiring filmmaker Mark (Lincoln Clauss). The costumes by Raquel Adorno are appropriately of the era, and suit the characters well. There’s also memorable lighting by Heather Gilbert, and an excellent Muny Orchestra led by music director Jermaine Hill. 

The story and characters are familiar if you know the show, and if you don’t, this serves as a good introduction. There’s filmmaker Mark,  along with his wannabe rock-star roommate Roger (Vincent Kempski); and the troubled and ailing dancer Mimi (Ashley De La Rosa), who shares a strong attraction with Roger, but he is afraid to commit for various reasons.  The rest of the characters are mostly part of the same group of friends, former friends, lovers and former lovers who deal with various struggles, mostly due to high housing prices, greed, drug addiction, and the AIDS epidemic. Performance artist Maureen (Lindsay Heather Pearce), used to date Mark but is now in a volatile relationship with lawyer Joanne (Anastacia McCleskey); out-of-work professor Collins (Terrance Johnson, standby for Evan Tyrone Martin) becomes involved with the charismatic drag queen and street performer Angel (Adrian Villegas); and Benny (Tré Frazier), who used to be Roger and Mark’s roommate but now owns their building after marrying into wealth, deals with the pressures he’s getting as a result of his new social position as well as his own former involvement with Mimi. The hopes, fears, struggles, loves, and losses of this group over the course of a year form the basis the plot, featuring a series of memorable songs and leading up to an emotionally charged conclusion.

What I think works especially well in this production is the development of the various relationships, and the overall sense of connection among the group of friends, even despite their conflicts. The cast is uniformly strong, with notable standouts being Kempski and De La Rosa, who show palpable chemistry as Roger and Mimi; as well as Pearce as the fiercely determined Maureen, McCleskey as the equally determined but frequently exasperated Joanne, and Villegas as the memorable Angel, who has great moments with Johnson’s also excellent Collins. The voices are strong across the board, as well as strong ensemble energy from an enthusiastic supporting cast including the Muny Teen Ensemble. 

Rent is an almost 30-year-old show that’s making its Muny debut with style, energy, and most of all heart. I’m glad to see it in such a big, well-produced version with such a strong cast. It’s another strong entry in the Muny’s stellar 2023 season. 

Cast of Rent
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

The Muny is presenting Rent in Forest Park until August 10, 2023

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