'Rent': Young, robust cast sells 'Rent' revival
A review of the 5th Avenue Theatre's local production of "Rent," in Seattle. Through Aug. 19, 2012.
Seattle Times theater critic
'Rent'By Jonathan Larson. Through Aug. 19, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; $20-$139 (206-625-1900 or www.5thavenue.org).
Viva la vie boheme!
Since Puccini's beloved opera "La Boheme" premiered in 1896, audiences have lived vicariously through the joys and sorrows of its scuffling young Parisien artists.
Exactly a century later, another romantic tale of creative dropouts ignited the mass imagination, in Jonathan Larson's supernova Broadway musical "Rent."
Youthful vitality, vocal firepower and tribal fervor are what can make "Rent," a fond yet not uncritical chronicle of artsy 1980s counterculture in Lower Manhattan at the height of the AIDS epidemic, pay off.
Apart from some quite annoying sound and vocal issues that should be fixed, the new 5th Avenue Theatre revival of "Rent" brings all you need to this fierce saga of free spirits "starving for attention, hating convention, hating pretension/ Not to mention of course hating dear old mom and dad."
Bill Berry's kinetic direction propels "Rent" forward, on the octane of a tireless cast packed with young (mostly local) talent.
These twentysomethings have the pipes for Larson's splendid score, one of the most ambitious and inventive of his generation. (Since he died suddenly, just before "Rent" opened in 1996, we'll never know what Larson would have tackled next.)
Patterned on "La Boheme," Larson's libretto transforms Puccini's penniless, consumptive Paris artists into an omnisexual group of friends living in slum squalor on the streets and in vacant buildings of Alphabet City.
The reclusive rock musician Roger (played with brooding ferocity by Aaron C. Finley) suffers from AIDS. So does the vulnerable, teenage junkie Mimi (Naomi Morgan), whose charms Roger at first resists.
Also suffering from the disease (in the era before effective drugs for AIDS emerged) are convivial academic refugee Tom Collins (Brandon O'Neill) and his rescuer and love, the drag queen Angel (Jerick Hoffer, whose class and piquant grace in the plum part make him a standout).
Healthier are artist Maureen (brassy Ryah Nixon) and her jealous lawyer lover Joanne (Andi Alhadeff). And observing them all, through the lens of his videocam, is the show's narrator, aspiring filmmaker Mark (endearing Daniel Berryman).
On Martin Christoffel's set of tri-level scaffolding, splashed with graffiti and Tom Sturge's superb lighting, these kids romp and sing and suffer through a year together.
It's a year of romances and breakups, innocence and maturation, illness and loss, and wrangling with their "sellout" landlord and ex-pal, Benny (Logan Benedict).
With a lusty chorus of fellow free spirits and homeless folk, these flawed and fetching characters pour their feelings out in song. (They are garbed by Pete Rush in striped leggings, metal-studded pants and other garments that scream 1980s.)
Though it's almost sung-through, and backed by a five-piece electric band, calling "Rent" a rock opera is something of a misnomer.
Few rock composers display Larson's command of harmony and fugal choral modes, developing and reiterating melodic themes and weaving together many musical styles (opera to tango to hard rock).
But there's also his Tin Pan Alley flair with stand-alone tunes, most notably the anthemic "Seasons of Love" and "Another Day," and the torchy blues "Take Me as I Am."
The 5th Avenue has the robust singers needed to sell this score, led by the power-voiced Morgan, Finley and Benedict.
But when the show rocks out loud, the vocal quality gets shrill, even squawky. Especially Morgan and the other women can sound like they're fighting to be heard above the band.
The sonic balance needs a fix, to make a very fine show a great one.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org