Title: Rent. Playwright: Jonathan Larson (book, music, lyrics)
At: Porchlight Music Theatre at Ruth Page Center. Tickets: 773-777-9884; PorchlightMusicTheatre.org; $25 and up. Runs through: Dec. 11
From its 1996 premiere up to the present, Rent has drawn the attention and support of LGBTQ+ audiences because of its embrace of genderqueer characters and lifestyles. Set in the early '90s among the boho artists of New York's East Village, half of its eight lead characters are gay or bi, and halfboth gay and straightare living with HIV/AIDS.
Director Adrian Abel Azevedo has done almost everything right with this production, completely erasing iconic images of Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Idina Menzel or Daphne Ruben-Vega in their stage and film productions of Rent. In their place, Azevedo has put together a multi-cultural, multi-gender, multi-shaped company of people who look utterly real, and who sing the hell out of Jonathan Larson's score. Azevedo is strongly partnered with musical director Michael McBride, who leads the company to highly-individual and original interpretations of the music, and makes the five-piece band sound like an orchestra; never too loud but always rich. It's an extraordinarily talented company, and you should see Rent for that alone.
The strengths of this production are impressive, because there isn't another modern Broadway hit that's as excessively over-written and under-plotted as Rent, with a second act that's 25 minutes too long and doesn't know when to end, and with self-absorbed characters given neither backstories nor futures in Larson's book. Of course, it's well-known that Larson died unexpectedly a day before Rent opened Off-Broadway, and everyone assumes he would have cut and focused the work if he had lived, but he didn't. What's leftthe only reason Rent deserves attention and praiseis brilliant musical writing. It's in a variety of rock idioms, but it's an opera, make no mistake, with arias, duets and bloody brilliant, complex ensemble writing, especially as Act I draws to a close. It's music that's really rich, red meat and it's wonderfully performed at Porchlight.
Rent has a large ensemble cast, and it's kinda unfair to single out folks, but Lucy Godinez & Teressa LaGamba really are appealing as the rowdy lesbian couple, Maureen and Joanne, and David Moreland brings unexpected depth to the isolated videographer, Mark. However, everyone is top-notch in this talented young company. The scenic, lighting, video and costume designs all are plusses as well, and so is Laura Savage's clever choreography for the ensemble of mostly non-dancers.