Rent – The Broadway Tour
Pantages Theatre Premiere
Friday February 27, 2009
It’s opening night on Hollywood Blvd and I’ve got a very apprehensive attitude towards what I’m about to see. Since the 2005 film rendition of Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award-winning musical, Rent has become a household name to music and movie lovers alike. I would even go as far to argue that no other musical has made quite a mainstream impact with its crossover to film since Randal Kleiser’s 1978 film rendition of Grease. The main question on my mind was whether I’d simply be watching the movie live or if this cast, including original cast and film members Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, would successfully revitalize the musical with their own original interpretations. As a Rent fan turned on by the film debut, I expected a lot.
The story starts on Christmas Eve with Mark (Rapp), an experimental filmmaker shooting without a script. Mark also serves as our narrator. His room-mate Roger (Pascal), an ex-junkie rock musician who has AIDS, enters and continues his attempt to write one great song. The Pantages Theatre erupted with applause at the mere sight of these two. The air of nostalgia thickened as the show went on. Familiar tune followed familiar tune and was greeted with that same excited applause. There wasn’t a critic in the audience except for yours truly and thank God I’ve got a good ear and eye for heartfelt performances.
Though I was mesmerized by Nicolette Hart’s interpretation of Maureen, Michael McElroy’s Collins, Justin Johnston’s Angel, and a stunningly engaging supporting cast, I felt Pascal and Rapp failed to bring anything new to their characters. Watching their performances was exactly like watching the movie. These guys could have served soylent green for dinner and this crowd would have eaten it up. The crowd was so nice. It must be a West Coast thing. I, on the other hand, was not impressed. But that’s not to say that there wasn’t anything good about this show.
Nicolette Hart delivered Maureen with an almost tweaker-like energy. Not only was she sexy and alluring, she moved around like she owned every inch of that stage and seemed to challenge anyone to say otherwise. Michael McElroy’s smooth sultry style fit Collins perfectly and did not disappoint when it came time for his feature in the “I’ll Cover You-Reprise.” Angel, probably the most beloved character in Rent, was performed by Justin Johnston. Following the footsteps of the outstandingly talented original cast and film member Wilson Jermaine Heredia is no easy task and Johnston did not disappoint. Yes, his voice was stunning and his dancing highly original, but he couldn’t help but steal the show even during his ensemble scenes.
In “Without You,” the scene depicted the pains of lovers separating, Mimi and Roger served as the vocal focus with couples Joanne and Maureen and Angel and Collins depicting their separation in silence. The first two face a chosen separation, while Angel and Collins have no choice. Angel is dying of AIDS. Though Johnston had no melody to sing or lines to say, I could not take my eyes off his character’s deteriorating state. Though the audience did not meet this performance with applause because of the moment’s somber mood, I wanted to jump out of my seat and cheer because it was delivered so successfully. For me, the high point of any show is when some aspect of the performance pulls on your heart strings and attacks your core. “Without You” was this show’s moment with Johnston’s portrayal of death being the catalyst for that.
Rent was Jonathan Larson’s last gift to the world and it’s a gift that will continue to take on many forms. Its survival depends on new interpretations from each person involved with it who keep Larson’s simple message at heart at all times. There is no day but today and the only way to measure any life is in love.