On Stage: Rent

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since “Rent” first took the stage. But then, it’s hard to believe that the young people in last night’s audience weren’t even alive at the end of the millennium.

Two decades may have passed since Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical made its debut, but “Rent” doesn’t feel dated. The show is just as vibrant and emotionally charged — and the audience reaction is just as enthusiastic — as it has ever been.

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The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour, photo by Carol Rosegg, 2016

For those who weren’t alive or don’t remember the late 20th century, “Rent” is the tale of a group of starving artists struggling to survive in New York City during the latter half of the 1990s. All of the characters, in one way or another, are dealing with the impact of AIDS.

Central to the story are roommates Mark the filmmaker (Danny Harris Kornfeld) and Roger the musician (Kaleb Wells). They are broke but living rent-free in a loft in the East Village. When their former cohort and now landlord Benny (Christian Thompson) announces they need to pay up, the show takes off.

But “Rent” isn’t really a story about making monthly payments for your living arrangements. It’s about three bohemian couples: Collins (Aaron Harrington), the anarchist professor who hooks up with the flamboyant drag queen Angel (David Merino); Maureen (Katie LaMark), the diva performance artist and her latest love, the anal-retentive Joanne (Jasmine Easler); and Roger, who is fighting his feelings for the young dancer Mimi (Skyler Volpe). Mark’s major relationship is with his camera.

The musical was inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s classic “La Boheme,”  and thanks to my opera-loving wife I have now seen both shows so can tell you that in a comparison/contrast situation — “Rent” is more entertaining. It has better music (I think “Rent” has one of the greatest scores in musical history), a meatier story, and let’s face it, you really can’t rock out to Puccini.

The 20th anniversary staging of the show playing this weekend at the Fox features a superb cast and excellent musicians. They’ve tinkered a little with some of the staging and set design but nothing dramatic.

It may not be a classic in the stature of “La Boheme,” but give it another 100 years.

 “Rent” runs through May 21 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

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