You can skip out on this “Rent,” writes critic Dusty Somers. The touring 20th-anniversary show, now in Seattle through Feb. 26, is more about longevity than any hip messaging about young bohemians living with HIV and AIDS.
Well, it’s “Rent” again.
Jonathan Larson’s galvanizing rock musical is back in town for a stop on its 20th anniversary tour, and it’s more of a victory lap for the show’s longevity than any reaffirmation of the qualities that energized audiences in the first place.
It’s 2017 and there are characters dabbing ironically in “Rent.” Aren’t you glad it made it this far?
by Jonathan Larson. Through Sunday, Feb. 26, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; $30-$105 (800-745-3000 or stgpresents.org).
“Rent” lost any claim to edgy hipness years ago, but there’s no shame in transitioning from disruptive upstart to well-worn standard. It may be just 20, but that’s where “Rent” is at this point, its time-capsule portrait of young artists in 1990s lower Manhattan offering familiar narrative and musical comforts to devotees.
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While some individual moments retain their power, slapdash direction by Evan Ensign (based on Michael Greif’s original direction) and frustratingly muddy sound levels mar the performance throughout.
On opening night, singers were frequently swallowed up by the band, with significant sections of many songs rendered only half-intelligible. Mimi’s “Out Tonight” was a series of mumbled phrases, punctuated clearly only by the howl of the title words. “La Vie Bohème” descended into word salad as the singers launched into a jumble of counterculture figures.
Some of the show’s signature numbers fared better, especially “Seasons of Love,” the sweet spot where Larson’s gooey sentimentality and ear for irresistible melody met.
Even with this less-than-ideal presentation, one continues to appreciate the intricacy and songcraft of the score by Larson, who died at 35 before “Rent” premiered.
The “La bohème”-inspired book, filled with stereotypical characters, narrative shortcuts and convenient reversals, continues to age poorly.
Narrated by aspiring filmmaker Mark Cohen (Danny Harris Kornfeld, going full nebbish), “Rent” revolves around three relationships in the East Village’s Alphabet City.
Erstwhile musician Roger Davis (Kaleb Wells, who strains to snarl with rock-star authenticity) romances dancer and addict Mimi Marquez (Skyler Volpe, vocally adept but inconsistent), each one struggling to maintain the fight against their HIV-positive status.
Performance artist Maureen (Katie LaMark) and her girlfriend Joanne (Jasmine Easler) constantly spar in the show’s broadest pairing, but LaMark’s exuberant goofiness embraces the caricature, and Easler’s vocal clarity is a welcome change of pace.
The love story of professor Tom Collins (Bryson Bruce) and drag queen Angel (Tim Ehrlich), who both have AIDS, is the show’s most meaningful, and that holds true in this production too, even if Ehrlich’s vocals don’t match his stage presence. Bruce’s heartfelt performance and poignant renditions of “Santa Fe” and “I’ll Cover You” are show highlights.
Still, this is a “Rent” one can safely skip without any fear of missing out. There are many more anniversary tours in its future.