Review: Rent, “The Broadway Tour”, February 8 2009

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I’m not ashamed to call myself a Rent fan, nor am I ashamed to admit that I’ve seen the show more than once. For me, I have so many memories associated with past viewings of the show, and I think that has a lot to do with why I keep going back.

Original Broadway Cat members, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, and Gwen Stewart are taking part of the current national touring production (dubbed “The Broadway Tour”) which kicked off in Cleveland on January 6th. The Broadway production of the show closed in September after playing 13 years at the Nederlander Theatre.

Before the tour opened, it was announced that while this production would look very similar to what was on Broadway, there would be two significant changes. I tried to avoid reading anything that would discuss what these changes were until I had I chance to see it for myself.

“The Broadway Tour” stopped in my hometown of Philadelphia and played at the Academy of Music from February 3rd through the 8th. I was fortunate enough to see the 1PM show the last day it was here.

For starters, I *assume* these were the “significant” changes being referred to:

  1. Instead of the tables and chairs being onstage at the start of the show, they are brought on by various cast members during Mark’s introductory monologue.
  2. The eulogies at Angel’s memorial service are slightly different in that some of the words are said in unison.

There were also some other smaller changes as well (the posters being held up at the beginning were larger/different, there was fake fire in the trash can, and Alexi’s bra straps were glow-in-the-dark to name a few).I suppose neither of these “major” changes were as drastic as I thought they might, but I wasn’t particularly found of either. I thought the table thing was sort of distracting and sort of took away from Mark’s monologue. The saying of parts of the eulogies in unison sounds nice in theory, but to me it came off sounding very mechanical.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the cast.

Roger Davis: Adam Pascal

Mark Cohen: Anthony Rapp

Tom Collins: Michael McElroy

Benjamin Coffin III: Jacques C. Smith

Joanne Jefferson: Haneefah Wood

Angel Schunard: Justin Johnson

Mimi Marquez: Lexi Lawson

Maureen Johnson: Nicolette Hart

Mark’s Mom: Caren Tackett

Mr. Jefferson: John Watson

Mrs. Jefferson: Gwen Stewart

Gordon: Adam Halpin

Steve: Telly Leung

Paul: Andy Señor

Alexi: Yuka Takara

One of the things that struck me about this cast was how many of them were in some past production of the show. Besides Pascal, Rapp, and Stewart, the following cast members were in either the Broadway production or one of the past tours:

Michael McElroy

Jacques C. Smith

Haneefah Wood

Justin Johnson

Nicolette Hart

Telly Leung

Andy Señor

Caren Tackett

Yuka Takara

and the following swings/understudies:

Cary Shields

Jed Resnick

Karmine Alers

Trisha Jeffrey.

I’d consider that a significant portion of the cast. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with recycling previous cast members necessarily, as long as it’s reasonable. What do I mean by reasonable, you ask? Rent is a show in which most of the cast should at least appear to be 20-something. If they look older, there’s a part of me that feels like I’m looking at a group of people who should really have jobs and not sitting around refusing to pay their rent. But maybe that’s just me. I realize that Rent has a history of casting people new to the show who I would consider “too old”, but I also think that some of the recycled cast members have hung around too long as well. As much as I enjoyed the novelty of seeing Pascal and Rapp, for example, I really thought they appeared too old for their respective rolls. Putting Lexi Lawson in the role of Mimi (who I think really is 20-something, or at least looks it), sort of makes Roger look like a creepy old man.

For me, the highlights of the performance were the following:

  • Getting to see Pascal and Rapp. While I stand by what I said about their ages, getting to see them was sort of amusing.
  • Gwen Stewart. I don’t have as many qualms with casting someone in her ensemble track who isn’t 20-something because she’s supposed to be Joanne’s mother. Not to mention that her Seasons of Love solo is to die for.
  • Lexi Lawson is gorgeous and has a pretty voice.
  • I felt sort of “eh” about Michael McElroy when I was him on Broadway and enjoyed him much better this time around.

In contrast, I think Nicolette Hart was the weakest part of this cast. The thing with Over the Moon is that it’s supposed to be a bad piece of performance art. Maureen should have a naive side of her that thinks Over the Moon is the best thing ever. I’m not sure I’ve seen a Maureen who is really, truly gotten that. Instead, many of the Maureens I’ve seen spend the time trying to be funny in order to get the audience to laugh. Nicolette Hart was no exception. Her Maureen came off seeming like a ditzy blonde, and I didn’t particularly like it.

I can’t believe I’ve written this much about Rent! I guess to sum things up, go see it if it comes near you. Don’t forget that many (most?) tour stops have some sort of rush policy.

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