Love in the age of AIDS, drug addiction, the plight of the homeless – not your usual musical fare. Based on Puccini’s opera La Boheme, the musical RENT is the Jonathan Larson retelling of a group of friends living in the Alphabet City neighborhood of New York City. Roger (P.J. GRIFFITH), the musician, has isolated himself in his loft for the past few months following the suicide of his girlfriend. Both tested positive for HIV as a result of their drug use. Roger’s roommate Mark (BEAU HIRSHFIELD) is an aspiring film maker, who documents the victories and sorrows of those around him. Mark was recently dumped by his girlfriend Maureen (CALLIE CARSON), a performance artist, who has found love in the arms of lawyer Joanne (NICOLE TILLMAN). Mimi (SABRINA SLOAN) lives in the same building as Roger and Mark. She is a dancer at a local club, has a drug addiction, and her eye on Roger.
The story opens on Christmas Eve as former roommate Tom Collins (like the drink) returns to see Mark and Roger. While outside the building, Tom (MEL ROBERT) is mugged and beaten. Street drummer, drag queen Angel (Jai Rodriguez) finds Tom and helps nurse his wounds. Each quickly learns that the other man is HIV positive, though for Angel, positive is more of an attitude than just a test result. A new love is borne of this chance encounter. Meanwhile, Benjamin Coffin, III (ANDREW JOHNSON) has arrived for the rent. Benny used to be one of the roommates. Now he is married to the rich daughter of a developer who is looking to evict the homeless in the neighborhood and build a cyber arts studio.
Mimi begins to draw Roger out of his shell and reveals that she too is HIV positive, but her continuous return to drugs is more than he can handle. Mark’s uncomfortable meeting with Joanne forces the two romantic rivals to recognize that Maureen may never be in a monogamous relationship with anyone. The rest of the story chronicles the next year of the lives of these friends as they struggle to find themselves and their place in the world, love, break up, reunite and suffer the ultimate loss. Though dealing with heavy subject matters, RENT is also a message a hope for anyone who has been beaten down by life.
The cast of this production did an impressive job bringing these characters to life on the stage; there are no weak links in this cast. Sabrina Sloan was on fire as Mimi Marquez, check out her number “Out Tonight” to see what I’m talking about. Callie Carson brought an extra level of crazy to Maureen’s bizarre protest performance “Over the Moon” – Moo with me!! Jai Rodriguez’ Angel Dumott Schunard is the real heart of the show. Jai plays Angel as sweet, sassy and the silver lining to the grey cloud of doom that HIV represents to the characters. You should see how he moves in heels in “Today 4 U”!
If you have never seen this show, you are in for an exciting evening. I admit that I came to RENT a little late in the game. My first experience with it was the film version four years ago; this was my first time seeing RENT live. I was thrilled to see all my favorites songs come to life in front of me. Personal faves: “Light My Candle”, “Tango Maureen”, “La Vie Boheme” & “Take Me or Leave Me”.
I still can’t believe I let this gem slip by me for so long!
Rent opened December 12, 2009 and will run through December 20th at:
Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Musical Theatre West @ CSULB Campus
6200 Atherton Street
Long Beach, CA 90815
Box Office Hours:
Monday-Friday 12:00 Noon-6:00 PM
(562) 856-1999 x4
Photos by: Alysa Brennan