Play Review: Rent's 20th Anniversary Tour.
By. Emery W.
Last Sunday, I was extremely fortunate enough to see a Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour show in Dallas. If you read my review of Hamilton then you probably get the picture that I’m a pretty big musical buff, and Rent, written by the late Jonathan Larson happens to be in my top five favorites.
I remember the first time I saw the film adaptation of the play, and instantly fell in love with the story. I spent hours on YouTube searching for videos of live performances, listening to the original cast album, and memorizing the lyrics. It’s also important that I point out that the film adaptation and live musical have a plethora of differences, and my review reflects my thoughts of the stage play, not the movie. It was quite hard for me to push the original casts voices out of my head while watching the 20th Anniversary show, but I managed to do it somehow.
This was the first live musical I’ve ever seen aside from the year my high school’s fine arts department did West Side Story back in 2009. The staging was perfect, and painted the picture of late 80’s, bohemian, New York City. The plot of the musical centers around a group of eight friends, each with different backgrounds and their own personal struggles. I don’t want to give too much away, but it was written for the times (1989-1990) and includes topics of homosexuality, drugs, and HIV/AIDS.
The show opens with Mark, the show’s narrator and resident film maker portrayed by Danny Harris Kornfeld. He brings the character to life impeccably, and is basically the second coming of Anthony Rupp who originated the role. Mark is best friends and the roommate of Roger, former front man of a successful rock band who is a recovering drug addict, and all-around homebody due to some inner demons.
Kaleb Wells, who portrays Roger does an excellent job of exuding the essence of a recovering addict, but personally I was missing the raw, husky rock star voice one comes to expect in a former rock star. But what Wells lacks vocally, he more than makes up for in his emotional acting chops. Every scene he has with his love interest, Mimi (played by Skyler Vope) pulls you in with every word.
Skyler Vope plays a great, 19-year-old Mimi who’s addicted to drugs and Roger. Her voice is unique, and you can feel her emotion in every note. Mimi is best friends with the cross dressing Angel played by David Merino.
Angel may be the most iconic and complex character in the musical, and Merino does him so much justice. He’s exciting, charismatic, and the heart of the group. Angel is in a relationship with Collins, the group’s anarchist and voice of reason. Aaron Harrington is by far, the breakout performer of the entire show. As Collins, his powerful, round baritone voice is booming. The most incredible part is this was Harrington’s first experience on stage.
Both actresses who portray Joanne and Maureen (Jasmine Easler and Katie Lamark, respectively) shined as a couple. Their chemistry on stage is uncanny, and their performance of Take Me or Leave Me rivaled that of Idina Menzel and Fredi Walker who originated the roles.
Of course the supporting ensemble cast members can’t go without recognition. The performance wouldn’t be possible without each of them with standout member Alia Hodge whose solo during Seasons of Love sent chills throughout my body.
All-in-all, there’s never a way to copy an original, and the Broadway cast from 20 years ago will always be the most iconic, but the current touring cast members do not disappoint in bringing Jonathan Larson’s vision to life.
If you have the opportunity arises for you to see this show in your area, I urge you to take in the experience to see the show with a message that has resonated for 20 years, and will continue to for years to come. Jonathan Larson would be proud.