A cheerfully expectant audience greeted the return of Rent to the IU Auditorium in the fourth year of their 20th Anniversary tour. Even with a bit of technical trouble in the first act, the crowd wasn’t disappointed. Jonathan Larson’s rock musical is a re-imagining of Puccini’s La Boheme . He moves it from Paris’s Left Bank under the shadow of tuberculosis and artistic poverty to New York’s lower East Side in the dark shadow of AIDs, addictions and that same poverty. Larson’s story actually uses some details from his own starving artist story. His modern day Bohemians and their creative energies made for an evening where some of the now familiar characters and a few of the songs were greeted with applause right from their entry.
Logan Marks as the documentary photographer Mark was a faithful friend to the artists and our trusty guide for the evening. Mark has been dumped by his girlfriend the flighty Maureen for Joanne, an upper class attorney. One of the hits of the evening was Mark and Joanne’s tango as they dance there way through their twin dismissals by the diva.
Joshua Bess was the blocked composer Roger. Dancer, Deri’Andra Tucker was a much more aggressive Mimi than Rossini’s shy seamstress. Roger’s hesitation in their “Light My Candle” sets the stage for the tension that remains between the two through the evening.
As the Bohemians huddled around their bare table, Javon King as the drag-queen Angel burst upon the stage. He’s a magnetic figure and the audience welcomed him with applause. There’s an innocence and street smart goodness in Angel that’s charming. Angels’ rescue and love affair with the philosophical Tom Collins, Devinré Adams is one of the heartfelt story lines of Rent.
Benjamin Coffin III,Marcus John is their former friend and current landlord. By the way, he’s the one asking for that rent.
There as some wonderful performance pieces in the show and few disappointments. JosShua Bess as Roger is a fine singer, but “One Song Glory” and “Your Eyes” don’t do his voice justice. Deri’Andra Tucker’s “Out Tonight” begins with Mimi at the top of the stage, and she sings as she athletically snakes to the floor. It’s good and it lasts just a bit too long. Lyndie Moe as the fickle Maureen’s, “Over the Moon” did end with the audience “mooing’ along with her, but it wasn’t as engagingly funny as it needs to be. On the other hand, I’m not sure and hesitate, but if Samantha Souza is the strong solo voice in a couple of the group piece, I’d like to thank her.
The fifteen member touring cast of the show is a strong one. The singing was really good and nicely balanced with the band led by Tim Weil from the keyboard. I’d brought along ear-plugs and was never tempted to use them. Energetic choreography with plenty of movement leading to memorable tableaus is by Marlie Yearby. The amazing set, how do they pack and unpack anything that complicated, is by Paul Clary. Overall direction is by Evan Ensign.
Johnathan Larson’s Rent plays at the IU Auditorium Monday January 28th and Tuesday January 29th. Monday night’s well satisfied audience gave the cast and the show a standing ovation.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker