Thursday, February 4, 2010
“Rent: the Broadway Tour” comes to Sacramento
Photo by Joan Marcus
Jonathan Larson’s “Rent,” which gathered a Pulitzer and a flock of other honors, closed on Broadway in 2008 but is now traveling as “Rent: The Broadway Tour.” California Musical Theatre makes it “a special addition to the Broadway Sacramento season.” It includes three members of the original Broadway cast: Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp and Gwen Stewart.
Just as “West Side Story” was an update of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Rent” is a contemporary version of “La Bohème,” where characters have AIDS instead of tuberculosis. And “Rent” has by now risen to a classic, a must-see at least once in a lifetime. As for the current version, we were lucky to have seats next to a couple who’d seen the Broadway version. They told us that the road show was a match for the original.
The first act reveals the characters living in a run-down apartment house on New York’s East End. A pair of friends, Mark Cohen (Anthony Rapp) and Roger Davis (Adam Pascal) are tenants, but the owner, Benny (Jacques C. Smith), wants to evict them so he can develop the property. He bemoans the fact that so many tenants are behind in their rent, the subject of the play’s second musical number. Thus we get one interpretation of the title. In a broader sense, “rent” may be what we “pay” just for being alive.
An aspiring film maker, Mark turns his camera on his surroundings, including Angel Schunard, played in drag by Justin Johnston. Among others in the neighborhood are Mimi Marquez (Lexi Lawson), Benny’s former date and now Roger’s lover. As for Mark, he was formerly paired with the gorgeous blonde Maureen Johnson (Nicolette Hart), who is now the paramour of Joanne Jefferson (Trisha Jeffrey/Merle Dandridge). Also on hand is Tom Collins (Michael McElroy), friend and former roommate of Mark and Roger.
It’s the Christmas season, warmed by the complexity of these relationships, as expressed in the act’s twenty numbers. Among them is a delightful courting song, “Light My Candle,” where Mimi is the pursuer and Roger the pursued, until he runs out of matches. The song also illustrates how times have tended to reverse the roles of the sexes. In a hilarious moment Maureen moons her fellow cast members. We also see how racial differences have been negated.
The first act probably has greater appeal to younger audiences, but the second act–which takes us through New Year’s Day, Halloween and a second Christmas–should have greater appeal to older audiences. Its darker moments and twelve numbers capture the pains of parting, sickness and death. The feeling of loss is caught in “Goodbye, love,” sung by seven characters.
Much credit goes to director Michael Greif, with strong help from choreographer Marlies Yearby and music supervision by Tim Weil, supported by an on-stage six-musician orchestra. Set designer Paul Clay offers a surreal back wall of gray bricks with odd sketches on them, plus a towering construct that looks like an abstract statue built with a giant erector set.
“Rent” continues through February 8, 2010, at the Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L Street. Performances continue Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.; and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Convention Center Box Office, (916) 808-5181. Advance tickets can be had at the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, 1419 H Street, (916) 557-1999, or Tickets.com.
Prices are $18-$65. A “Rent” tradition, started in New York and continuing on the road, continues with the current production in Sacramento. Orchestra tickets for $23 go on sale at the theater box office two hours before the show, cash only, with a limit of two per person.