Rent, book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, New Repertory Theatre, Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 9/4/11-10/2/11, http://www.newrep.org/rent.php. Mature themes, Full-frontal nudity.
Reviewed by Leah White
(Watertown, MA) The New Repertory Theatre, in residence at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, opens its 2011-2012 season with Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical, RENT. Considered groundbreaking in its 1996 premiere, RENT uses the story of struggling bohemian artists to convey its message of love, tolerance, and friendship.
Immediately, the scenic design transports you to the lower east side of Manhattan, bleak and cold, with scaffolding and a scarcity of material things. The characters are desperately poor and many are sick with HIV and AIDS, but they have created a life for themselves full of surrogate family members and a determination to make an impact on the world. The lighting design successfully enhances the mood from song to song, from exuberant to solemn, intimate to exhibitionist.
With a small but skillful band onstage, the cast comes alive with the title song, “Rent.” The choral pieces are strong throughout, but there is an unevenness to the individual performances that is evident as the play progresses.
Highlights include Eve Kagan as Mimi, raring to go “Out Tonight” and Aimee Doherty’s delightful rendition of Maureen’s unabashedly absurd performance piece, “Over the Moon.” The hope and heartache of Angel and Collins’ love affair, sweetly portrayed by Nick Sulfaro and Maurice E. Parent, bring together not just the characters, but the audience, as well.
The big question is…can a 15 year-old show about the AIDS epidemic be relevant in the new millennium? The answer is a resounding YES, because, at its heart, RENT is about so much more than a ravaging illness. It’s about railing against poverty, loneliness, desperation, and disease, by celebrating and embracing the very best of humanity. New Rep’s tribute to the human spirit continues through September 25th.