Delve into what it’s really like to be “living in America, at the end of the millenium” with the 20th anniversary tour of Jonathan Larson’s RENT, the rock opera that has maintained a cult following since its’ debut in the 1990s.
RENT takes its’ plot from Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera La Boheme, which follows the lives of starving artists as they face difficult circumstances. Larson’s rendition, however, sets the story in New York during the peak of the AIDS epidemic: 1989. While pain and loss tint the tale, RENT integrates everything from rock ballads to tangos, weaving playfulness and fun through the tragedy.
Scenic designer Paul Clay draws audiences directly into the dirty streets of New York with his industrial set. Support beams cut the stage every which way. Each available surface is plastered with music and protest posters from all across the city. Utilitarian metal tables double as beds, doors, and stages during the performance. Clay’s design embodies the tune of creativity and poverty that is all too familiar for this ensemble.
The tension onstage between washed-up rocker Roger Davis (Kaleb Wells) and drug-addicted dancer Mimi Marquez (Skyler Volpe) is palpable. While they are not the vocal highlights of the show, with Wells being flat at times and Volpe shouting through her top notes, their Act II desperation is gut-wrenching. Volpe sobs through “Goodbye Love”, piercing the air with raw emotion. Wells matches her with his tender cries during “Finale B”.
The moment Aaron Alcaraz floats onstage as Angel, hands thrumming against a plastic tub, the stage is filled with a joyous glow; a welcome reprieve from the darkness of RENT. Alcarez greets Tom Collins (Devinré Adams) with a smile just as charming as his clear countertenor voice. Adams meets him with a smooth baritone. The powerhouse couple rattles Overture Hall with duets “I’ll Cover You”, “You Okay Honey?”, and “Santa Fe”.
While the AIDS epidemic has slowed down with the help of current sciences, the potency of RENT is not lost on modern audiences. Underneath the era references and grungy locale, Larson tells a timeless human story of vulnerability, longing, identity, purpose, and of course, love.