Goodbye, Love: RENT on Life Support at PPAC

Okee dokee folks… it’s been about 13,665,600 minutes since Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award winning musical, Rent, opened on Broadway in 1996. This weekend the Rent 13,140,000th minute anniversary and farewell tour took over the Providence Performing Arts Center stage for four shows. The 25th anniversary was 525,600 minutes late due to a Covid layover that shifted many tour schedules.

Rent is the story of a group of artists who struggle to live with AIDS, drug addiction and homelessness in the East Village in early 1990’s New York City. The success of the musical prompted a 2005 film adaptation starring many of the original cast members such as Anthony Pascal, Adam Rapp, and Jesse L Martin. Over the years Rent has garnered a steadfast fan base that identify and sympathize with the struggles of the characters as well as just enjoying the music.

I have been fortunate to have seen a few productions of Rent over the years and one tour that featured original cast members, Pascal and Rapp. While I am not a “Rent-head” I do enjoy the music. Having attended some great Rent performances (at PPAC) in the past I do have to say that I am somewhat disappointed in this farewell version of the show.

I generally find that if you love a particular show you are probably going to love any version of the show presented, but maybe in varying degrees. While I am sometimes a fan of a show that I am to review I do have to look at things more critically than others and sometimes the criticism does not align with hardcore fans’ or even an average audience’s opinions.

Overall I found that the Rent 25th anniversary cast’s chemistry was weak if not completely absent. The connection between the characters of Mimi and Roger was especially non-existent. I also thought that many of the roles, mostly the leads, were miscast. This is a show about starving artists, drug addicts and people with AIDS. At one point one of the characters exclaims, “Mimi’s gotten so thin”. It is hard to believe when the actor who plays the Mimi role is somewhat voluptuous. I feel that many of the actors were too well fed for the parts to make them believable. Mimi’s “Out Tonight” which is a rowdy-holwer didn’t quite live up to previous versions I have witnessed. The character that leads the production, Mark the film maker, who should have been the strongest was one of the weakest performers in the show.

The sound seemed to need some tweaking as the song lyrics were often barely audible above the sound of the band which was located on stage along with the performers. This may not have been a technical issue but an issue with the projection of the performers themselves. I noticed that when Maureen sang her songs they were clear. The stage, though it was a somewhat typical Rent set, seemed overly cluttered. The multi-leveled scaffold décor was accented by what I can only describe as looking like hanging debris of a crashed space station. I usually enjoy the band onstage during this type of show but in this case it detracted with more clutter and added nothing.     

While I had overall issues with this production there were some bright moments. The role of Angel, played by Javon King, who has appeared in previous productions of Rent, was perfect. He has the very limber dance moves, good voice and the perfect look and affectations for this role. The audience was very generous in their applause for him. Maureen, played by Lyndie Moe, who also has appeared in previous productions of Rent, confidently captured the character. Her performance art piece had the gentleman behind me in stitches for its duration. She also had a voice that cut through, loud and proud. As always, the song “Seasons of Love” is a show stopper. The female soloist in this number was outstanding.

As I previously mentioned I watched Rent critically and not as a lay person. I have to withdraw any emotional attachments I have to it so I can review properly. The audience gave the show a standing ovation and seemed to love every minute of it. I understood this and expected it. My girlfriend, who had never seen Rent before, loved it. My experience just differs from others. If you have never seen Rent it was an apt production. To me it was like what happens to a Xerox copy when you copy it too many times- it loses quality with every version. The performers in these copies of copies ride the roles into other roles until they land a role that they can create themselves, sometimes it works, other times not.

The 25th Anniversary Rent Farewell show is at PPAC only for one weekend, Jan 14-16 and then it moves on until it is retired.

The strict mask and vaccine mandate at PPAC made for a safe and secure feeling in the wake of the current Covid wave.           

That’s it for now.  Thanks for reading.