Rent – Paramount Theatre

 

Book, Music and Lyrics by:  Jonathan Larsonparamount theatre

Director:  Jim Corti

Musical Arrangements by:  Steve Skinner

Original Concept/Lyrics by:  Billy Aronson

Music Director/Conductor:  Shawn Stengel

Choreographer:  Katie Spelman

 A Cold Dark Year

 The first half of  “Rent” shows an extremely discouraged group of homeless people on Christmas Eve, mostly with AIDS, and little or no money.  They crash in the frigid top-floor of a warehouse, with a lenient landlord who sympathizes, but needs his rent.   You feel a long, sad and discouraging first act, except for a tall vivacious drag queen (Sawyer Smith) in a bright red Christmas-like outfit.  She lights the stage and the mood not only visually, but with her uplifting cheerfulness.

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 The second act refreshingly begins with the signature song, “Seasons of Love”, with the familiar lyrics of “Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes”.  Not many of the 43 songs in the 2 hour 40 minute performance (including intermission) are memorable, because when the ensemble sings, many songs sound the same.  This could stem from the sheer number and unnecessarily high volume.  The show uses very little speaking dialogue.   But…the voices are certainly worth hearing, especially from Adaeze Kelley, whose acting matches her tremendous singing.  The galaxy of stars in the cast (Andrew Mueller, Adam Michaels, Evan Tyrone Martin, Andrea Prestinario, Kelvin Roston, Jr., and Meghan Murphy) delivers some ordinary songs brilliantly, and the solo or duo singing is more than worth the ticket price.  Even when a few of the ensemble members belt out, one is amazed at the abundance of talent on the stage, and casting for every role hit a perfect mark.  Many musicals include dancing, but the script of Rent provides little reason to dance, except for a few brief songs, with “Tango, Maureen”, supplying a little levity.

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 Rent was conceived in the hay day of the prevalence of AIDS, but with the strides made in medicine and now laws regarding Gay marriage, Rent seems a bit outdated.  But, today’s audiences may relate to the many similarities seen recently from the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that occurred in September 2011.  “Rent’s” opening-night audience responded positively, perhaps because the young people were unaware of the 1980s-1990s when AIDS was at the forefront of political action.  Or, they may have enjoyed the shock and novelty found in the play, or they agreed with the references to many political points. 

 When first produced on Broadway in 1996, “Rent” struck New Yorkers and sympathetic audiences by winning four Tony awards and a Pulitzer…and played for 12 years.  This was a break through musical concept trying to be derivative of La Boheme.   Today, another era, it may not receive as enthusiastic a welcome over its run in the Midwest, and perhaps none at all in Des Moines.  This show is raw, course and graphic with an R rating…not recommended for audiences under 17. 

 The fixed gray set was in keeping with a bleak cold winter of New York.  The themes concern drugs, AIDS, death, poverty, hunger, protests, homosexuality, and various pairings won and lost…but little focus on causes or viable solutions.  Rent speaks much of love, but shows few actual manifestations of it.  At one point, one of the actors says, “Break all the taboos.” and they strive to accomplish just that…except for murder…but even off stage, a dog meets a mysterious demise.  

 Recommended

Margaret Eva

Date Reviewed:  March 15, 2014

 Paramount Theatre

23 E. Galena Blvd.

Aurora, Illinois

 Performances:  March 12 to April 6, 2014

Wednesdays 1:30 pm.and 7:30 pm., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m.

Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 1:00 p.m and 5:30 p.m.

 Tickets:  Singles $36.90 to $49.90.

Call the Box Office at (630) 896-6666 or visit   www.ParamountAurora.com