Take a handful of poets and painters, another of philosophers and those they love or wish they loved or wish they didn’t, put them in 1830s Paris, where they live and love in uncertain times, set it to music, add choreography, and you’ve got Puccini’s wonderful “La Boheme.”
Then take this opera, these handfuls of people, and move it to the 1990s and New York’s East Village, and update the climate to the uncertain times of drug addiction, AIDS, homosexuality, paying the landlord for another 30 days of lodgings and you’ve got Jonathan Larson’s equally wonderful “RENT.”
A touring company for “RENT” is now at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts to bring this Broadway sensation right to our own backyard.
“RENT” has a history. By the time Larson’s seven-year odyssey of creation, re-writes and rehearsals was ready to open at the New York Theatre Workshop, The New York Times wrote that the curtain would go up exactly 100 years after it did on “La Boheme.” Interest in the production increased, and the house sold out.
Then, the night before the show opened, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm. The cast and crew agreed that the show must go on, and the audience response moved the show to Broadway soon after that first performance that the playwright never got to see.
The original production of “RENT” collected, among others, the 1996 Tony Award for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score, and the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Despite a mic/speaker glitch in the first act, the touring cast pulled off a musical that lived up to the original, attracting everyone from college kids to businesspeople.
Mimi’s (Jaime Lee Kirchner) onstage change from a modest robe to a black and electric-blue pleather outfit, knee-high leopard-print boots, and rendition of “Out Tonight,” stunned the audience, as did her gyrations and sky-high kicks.
“Tango: Maureen,” a duet between a man and a woman fighting over a lover, got as much applause for the dancing as it did for the tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Brian Gligor and Rebecca Jones poured their collective angst into their spoof of the sensual tango with their exaggerated movements, and the giggles from the audience turned into outright laughter.
“RENT” doesn’t require its performers to have classically trained voices, and voices in this cast run the gamut from Roger’s (Constantine Moroulis) rock-star voice to Collin’s (Marcus Paul James) deep velvety bass. R&B singers, pop-voiced performers and Broadway-style belters come together to form a cast that’s perfectly suited for Larson’s hard-hitting but contemplative musical score.
Larson created a rock musical that focuses on the subjects most people wish to ignore, but through its heart-wrenching plot and memorable music, “RENT” reminds everyone that there truly is “no day but today.”