About once a decade, a musical barrels onto the scene that provides a new generation of wannabes with a fresh canon of campy ballads engineered to be sung into hairbrush microphones in front of bathroom mirrors across the country. The 60s had “Westside Story,” the 70s boasted “Grease,” the 80s gave us “Phantom” and the 90s saw the world grow enamored with “Lion King.” However, even given the success of Simba and company, Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” stands alone as the barometric touchstone of mid-90s Broadway and acted as the musical magnum opus for Gen Y. Unfolding over the course of a year at the dawn of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the show is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème” and follows a group of bohemians as they wax and wane in and out of turmoil in New York’s seedy Alphabet City. It is one of the most decorated works to have ever graced the stage, having been tabbed for about as many Tony awards as there are spoken – not sung – lines in the play, and perhaps the arts’ loftiest accomplishment, a Pulitzer Prize.
Needless to say, any off-Broadway incarnation of “Rent” is an ambitious undertaking that inevitably comes with atmospheric expectations. Ignite Theatre’s production at the Aurora Fox this August is no exception, and fortunately for metro-area Rent-heads, the show, by and large, delivers.
Just about all of the 17 roles shine in directors Keith Rabin Jr. and Amy Osatinski’s rendition of the show, each cast-member sporting some very serious pipes – an absolute necessity in a show in which many of the audience members know the lines just as well as the actors. A healthy crowd at the Fox’s main-stage on Sunday stayed true to that notion, preemptively laughing before some scenes even hit their punch lines and rewarding strong solos with giddy applause that sounded more like approval than praise. The Colorado crowd is also deserving of some serious kudos for its seemingly genuine appreciation of all of the NYC jabs and references subtly tossed around. The famed, “I’m a New Yorker, fear’s my life,” line in particular got a surprisingly raucous reaction.
Through Aug. 31
Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 E. Colfax Ave.
7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2:30 p.m . Sunday
3 and 1/2 out of 5 Stars
The crowd aside, the show is a musical to the core, something you constantly have to remind yourself of amid a rather loose plot. The performance feels more like a string of mini-concerts, with a far-less cohesive storyline than the 2005 film. But with just as much musical prowess and bravado, it makes any plot-lapse much more forgivable. The 42 numbers shine just as big and as boldly as they did during the show’s original 12-year Broadway stint – a treat Aurorans should not take for granted nor miss.
Jenna Moll Reyes puts on a heady performance as the drug-obsessed Mimi, as does Brandon Lopez as Collins, both managing to find the ground between over-polished and sincere. Also notable is Lopez’s love interest in the show, the ebullient cross-dresser, Angel (Carlos Jimenez), who bubbles with just the right combination of effervescence and sass. Randy Chalmers, who plays Benny, and ensemble-member Anna High are noteworthy musical standouts, who both supply brilliant solos during the adored “Seasons of Love,” – better known by its opening line, “525,600 minutes.”
The only shortcoming really doesn’t come short of anything, but is conversely due to the over-compensation, and over-zealousness of certain cast members. Whether it be that some of these young guns are playing their dream roles, or just the fact that it’s the notoriously dramaturgical “Rent,” some take their characters to near-nuclear levels of charisma. The biggest perpetrator of this hyperactive deep-dive being Maureen, played by Lindsey Falduto.
Falduto smashes into the show with a beloved, manic soliloquy, however her delivery and the glare gleaming off her pink polyster pants shines too bright, as her tone teeters toward gaudy. The task of portraying Maureen is an ask-and-a-half of any actress, as the fine line between high-octane and unhinged is so hard to pinpoint. Drifting in the direction of the latter, Falduto dives too deep. Yes, the character is designed to crawl under the audience’s seven layers, and create some mental discomfort. But instead of eliciting that sort of bug-eyed adoration, Falduto brings out more of a slant-mouthed uneasiness.
In total, the show is a musical marvel, weaving heavy subject matter into fizzy songs that are as catchy as they are powerful. Both Puccini and Larson would be proud of this galvanizing performance.