Group: Touring company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 539 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: June 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Tickets: From $24 to $66; contact 314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com
Story: Set on the Lower East Side, the avant garde district of New York City, Rent tells the story of artists living with the specter of AIDS in the late 1980s. Filmmaker Mark and his best friend, musician Roger, are reeling from personal setbacks: Roger’s girlfriend killed herself after finding out she and Roger were HIV-positive, while Mark’s lover Maureen has left him for another woman, Joanne.
Their former roommate, Tom Collins, is a gay philosopher who has fallen in love with a drag queen named Angel, while another former roommate, Benny, has gone uptown by marrying the daughter of a wealthy family. When Benny and his father-in-law buy the building where Roger and Mark reside, he threatens to evict them if they don’t pay their rent, but he is upstaged when Maureen does a performance piece on Christmas Eve in protest of Benny’s intention to close down an adjoining building that shelters the homeless. Roger meanwhile meets Mimi, an exotic dancer who lives in his building and also is HIV-positive, and a mutual attraction develops between them. In the course of the next year all of their lives are impacted both by their artistry and by the political and artistic activities swirling around them.
Highlights: Based at its core on Puccini’s classic opera, La boheme (now being performed in repertory at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis) and updated to the late 20th century, this groundbreaking musical ran for more than 12 years on Broadway, closing last September. It won numerous awards in 1996, including the Pulitzer Prize for drama and Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score for its author, Jonathan Larson. Tragically, Larson died of an aneurism the day before the Broadway opening, which occurred exactly a century after La boheme debuted.
The company presently touring the country includes Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp reprising their original roles as Roger and Mark, respectively. This version is stylishly and engagingly directed by Michael Grief, who won the 1996 Obie Award for his effort with the original show. Brisk, energetic and electrifying, the two-act musical cleverly incorporates an on-stage band into the performance, which accentuates and underscores Larson’s inspired lyrics and lively music
Other Info: Whether it’s the pulsating title tune, the raucous and affecting La Vie Boheme that concludes Act I or the beautiful ballad Seasons of Love that opens Act II, Larson’s beautiful tunes are given first-class treatment. The sprawling urban set designed by Paul Clay utilizes the vast expanse of The Fox stage to judicious advantage, and is handsomely lit by Blake Burba, whose lights are a major force in the presentation, whether softly illuminating the ‘candle’ scene between Roger and Mimi or overpowering everything in the robust café of La Vie Boheme. Angela Wendt’s costumes add a distinct touch of the place and the characters, particularly Mimi and her spandex outfits and Maureen’s garish performance garb.
All of the performers demonstrate substantial singing ability, from Lexi Lawson’s haunting mezzo-soprano as Mimi to Papp’s crystal clear baritone as Mark and, most especially, Michael McElroy’s booming bass as Tom Collins. Impressive work also is contributed by Pascal, most effective on duets with Lawson, Justin Johnston as the determined drag queen Angel, Nicolette Hart as the daffy performance artist Maureen, Haneefah Wood as the no-nonsense attorney Joanne and Jacques Smith as the cool and conniving Benny.
With the noted addition of some lively choreography courtesy of Marlies Yearby, exemplified in the tongue-in-cheek Tango: Maureen number, and the adroit musical supervision of Tim Weil and spirited musical direction of David Truskinoff, this version of Rent deserves to be paid respect.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.