Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour
Jonathan Larson (Book, Music & Lyrics)
|The Cast of Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour|
Lines like “How do you document real life when real life is getting more like fiction each day?” sound sadly too current. Scenes of ignored homeless on dirty, drug-laden streets mirror the scene outside the doors of the Golden Gate Theatre in the surrounding Tenderloin neighborhood. And the threat of young artists losing their funky, warehouse abode is right off the headlines of today’s San Francisco Chronicle. The timing for this revival tour could not be more eerily perfect with its message that transcending all these very real and troubling issues is the power of unconditional love for all -- no matter gender preference, race, sexual orientation, economic status, or even if dying from a society’s most shunned disease.
Not only was the dark subject matter of drug-using and hungry street people along with the subject of AIDS and its effects on New York’s artistic community startlingly bold when Rent premiered, other new ground was broken for the American Musical at the time. Its rock opera approach introduced numbers sounding much like recitatives, arias, duets, and grand chorus numbers of Puccini’s original but done with electronic pulses and pounding beats that introduced a new generation to classical themes in a way that they could hear and understand. The result in 2017 are musical numbers that have entered the Great American Songbook as classics and can be hummed and sung in well-know phrases by a generation that may or may not have even seen the original production in its twelve-year run on Broadway or all its tours. “Seasons of Love,” “Another Day,” “La Vie Bohème,” and “Take Me or Leave Me” (among many others) and the ubiquitous “five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes” are now etched into our collective psyche forever.
Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour takes the original and updates it with neon-hued energy, freshness, and contemporary feel that zings and snaps from beginning to end. Evan Ensign directs this large and talented cast with an eye to pushing those original, daring boundaries even further to edges that are raw, painful, and yet utterly beautiful. The set of Paul Clay is massive in scope with its multiple and climbing levels of twisted metal and stairs against the Golden Gate’s back brick wall. The lighting of Jonathan Spencer provides hints of Christmas against the dark dreariness of poverty and illness while offering looming, gigantic shadows that hint of the threats of abandonment, eviction, and death. Angela Wendt’s costumes sparkle, shock, and satisfy all at the same time, bringing this old story a new look of today’s starving in the streets and hungry in the studios.
|Danny Harris Kornfield & Kaleb Wells|
Mark is still getting over his break-up with his old roomie and lover, Maureen, whose new girlfriend is Joanne (Jasmine Easler). The two rivals discover a surprising symbiosis of their common ills with the cheating, but highly seductive “diva”as they dance and sing with dramatic flair in “Tango Maureen.” The focus of their past and present love is arranging a Christmas Eve benefit show to protest eviction of the homeless from a vacant lot where another former roomie, Benny (Christian Thompson) wants to put up a new studio for artists.
|Jasmine Easler & Katie Lamark|
|David Merino & Aaron Harrington|
|The Cast in "La Vie Bohème"|
Tomes more could be written to praise more individual and collective performances, other parts of the brilliant script and sets of lyrics, and all of the still-memorable music of this current Rent. Needless to say, twenty years have only made this then-hit a once again must-see. Nothing is stale in its telling or its message. Like a good wine, Rent has aged even closer to perfection.
Rating: 5 E
Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour continues through February 19, 2017 at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available at Tickets are available at https://www.shnsf.com.
Photo Credits: Carol Rosegg