Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour returned to the Merriam Theater October 18, 19, and 20 after its sold-out appearances here this March. The house this October 18 was packed for this modern retelling of the Puccini classic La Boheme.
Jonathan Larson (February 4, 1960-January 25, 1996) wrote the Book, Music, and Lyrics for Rent which premiered on Broadway in 1996. It is a testament to his skill and vision that Rent is still going strong decades after it first appeared on Broadway. Larson received three posthumous Tony Awards and a posthumous Pulitzer prize for his rock musical Rent.
This production is the Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour, boasts a fine, young cast, some still in college. Two cast members are from Philadelphia, Shafiq Hicks as Tom Collins is a Temple University student while Lexi Greene is an ensemble member and understudy to Maureen. Even more interesting (equally interesting?) is Joshua Tavares who is a superb Angel Schunard. He hails from Hawaii, a place not known for hosting Broadway touring companies, with the exception being Broadway in Hawaii, which has been presenting shows since 1999 (www.broadwayinhawaii.com ).
The general impressions experienced during the performance were mostly positive. Having seen Rent several times, there are elements from each production and cast which remain in the mind, while new realizations are created from the artistic insights of each new performer. This performance was no exception. The rock score was probably the most thrillingly realized here, with the small ensemble of on-stage players giving a piece of their heart throughout the performance. The band included Mark Binns, Conductor and Keyboards; Paul O’Keefe, Assistant Conductor, Keyboards, Guitar; David Malachowski , Guitar; Jordan Richards, Bass; and Jeff Snider on Drums. On a less positive note, if you had never seen Rent before, you might have had trouble understanding some of the dialogue which at times was indistinct. Outstanding performances came from Cody Jenkins as a phenomenal Mark Cohen, who danced thrillingly and sang clearly and memorably. Notable performances were given by Juan Luis Espinal, a fine Benny, Samantha Mbolekwa, a sexy, belting Joanne, and a cast of fine singing, dancing actors. Coleman Cummings was a fine Roger Davis who lit the candle for dance phenomenon Aiyana Smash as Mimi Marquez, who managed to dance amazingly with strength and power while looking so fragile. Kelsey Sweigard was a shapely, quite believable bombshell Maureen. This Maureen even bared her buttocks during the Christmas Eve party. That same Christmas Eve party at the restaurant was a dance highlight of the show. Everyone threw themselves into it and onto the table to leave a thrilling impression on the audience. Bravos should also go to Choreographer Marlies Yearby and Director Evan Ensign. The post-modern Christmas Tree was amazing.
If this Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour returns for another visit (renamed the 21st Anniversary Tour?) be sure to snap up your tickets.
Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour began the Kimmel’s Broadway Philadelphia season. Next will be Far From Away, then Mean Girls, Dear Evan Hansen, The Band’s Visit, Hello Dolly, and Escape From Margaritaville will follow. For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.kimmelcenter.org .