Mike Woody reviews "Rent 20th Anniversary Tour", now at the Schuster Center through January 26.
Approximately 525,600 times I’ve heard the ‘Seasons of Love,’ song which is how I measure my familiarity with the hit musical ‘Rent.’ It’s all I knew about it, so I was shocked (and slightly disappointed) that only two minutes are devoted to it. How do I measure my love for the show? By whether or not I snored, or the number of times I almost cried. If the costumes were adored, or if a positive review means I lied? Let’s talk about ‘Rent’ and how it all went.
The truth is, I prefer shows that contain more dialog as ‘Rent’ is almost entirely music. However, it’s hard to argue with the formula as this is the 20th anniversary tour and it’s worked for a number of other shows. ‘Cats,’ for example? By the way ‘Cats’ is coming in May (I won’t mention the movie). My other complaint is that I struggled to follow all that was happening in the first act. Granted I’m in the minority as I assume that most who attend has seen the show before. The second act is a vast improvement and coincidentally when ‘Seasons of Love’ is performed.
The positives do far outweigh err outmeasure the negatives. To begin the entire cast and all the music is superb. How ‘Seasons of Love,’ has become so well known, while ‘Over the Moon’ has not gone mainstream is beyond me. Not many songs, other than Old McDonald has you Mooo-ing. It is an ‘udderly’ splendid performance by Maureen (Kelsee Sweigard). It’s pretty ironic that Maureen sings a song with moon in the title, as she also delivers a full moon.
Beyond a telescope worthy visual and all the glorious sounds, at the heart of ‘Rent’ is a touching tale of friendship (and lots of voicemails). Between financial woes and diagnosis’s of HIV+, all they have to depend on is each other. If the sitcom ‘Friends’ had been a Netflix original the cast would resemble the characters of ‘Rent’ more than Ross and Rachel. There is aspiring filmmaker Mark (Cody Jenkins), who serves as a narrator. His roommate is the heartbroken Roger (Coleman Cummings), a starving songwriter desperately trying to create a hit before his time on earth runs out. A leading source of his inspiration is Mimi (Aiyana Smash), an on again/off again romantic partner. Smash ignites more than a candle with a three alarm fiery performance.
There is also Tom Collins (Shafiq Hicks), whose voice is like a cocktail that full of spirit and packs a hard punch. He has a romance with a flamboyant drag queen named Angel, played by Joshua Tavares. Tavares is a literal God send for the role, as he has just the right amount of sass and wears the outlandish costumes better than anyone else could. As previously mentioned Sweigard is not just a moon, but also a ray of sunshine as Maureen. Her love interest is Joanne, played by Samantha Mbolekwa. All the chaos surrounding the title word of Rent, which Roger & Mark owe, is started by the conniving landlord Benny (Juan Luis Espinal).
They are all connected in a series of love triangles that you almost need a degree in Geometry to figure out. Standout moments include ‘Without You,’ which is both a musical and emotional high point. Smash carries the scene with her voice (and movements) with an assist from Cummings.
And of course the before mentioned ‘Seasons of Love.’ My only question is, where was Rayla Garske, a featured soloist, during the rest of the show? A voice so miraculously powerful that it sends chills down your spine should be featured more.
The seemingly current trend of having the orchestra/band on stage is used to perfection in ‘Rent.’ The use of recycled items pieced together to form a large set piece has also gotten popular and is done here.
My final measurement is ‘Rent 20th Anniversary Tour’ is about 140 minutes of high quality art that’s well worth loving.
Mike Woody is a life long resident of Dayton, and has a passion for writing, which is good because he doesn't excel at much of anything else, except eating.