At Sunday’s performance of “Rent,” sound problems forced the cast to stop and start twice – an annoying glitch but one that helped set the mood.
Considering the show is set in a ratty building in the East Village several decades ago, the problem wasn’t all that glaring.
Both times, the actors picked up without pause and, for good measure, added new bits that gave the audience something to ponder.
The show, though, did seem a little dated considering its pressing issues aren’t so pressing anymore.
Most of the folks in the fold are HIV-positive, living with the fear of AIDS. That makes their decisions hasty and, in several cases, necessary.
Chronicling it all: a young filmmaker named Mark (Sammy Ferber) who isn’t affected but wants to give his friends the immortality they deserve. His best friend and roommate, Roger (Kaleb Wells), wants to write one good song before he dies. He meets a dancer, Mimi (Yael Reich), falls in love and discovers she, too, has the disease.
Celebrating more than 20 years of existence, the touring company of “Rent” captured plenty of the emotions found in the original even though some of the choreography wasn’t as time specific as it might have been. Moves inspired by Beyonce and other post-“Rent” stars slipped in, pulling the audience out of the period.
Still, the show’s emotions were intact – particularly the love between Tom Collins (Josh Walker) and the drag queen Angel (Aaron Alcaraz). The two made their budding romance seem real and, in the second act, oh-so-tragic. Alcaraz must do Crossfit just to be able to jump from the floor to the top of a table in oh-so-high heels. He had every moment in hand and made us feel the journey his character took. Walker had one of the best voices ever heard in the Orpheum.
While Reich, an understudy, was tentative in some moments, she partnered Wells well and gave him the kind of emotional heft needed to pull off Roger’s thaw.
“Seasons of Love,” the show’s big second-act opener, brought all the necessary tears and helped set up the series of unfortunate events that followed.
Lyndie Moe, as the performance artist Maureen, got the most laughs, working her “Cow Jumped Over the Moon” to maximum effect.
For the most part, the voices were fine, giving those “Rent” standards all the bells they needed. But the direction (whether that of Michael Greif, the original director, or Evan Ensign, the re-creator) often seemed chaotic and lacking purpose. As memory serves, one scene should melt into another. Sunday, it seemed like they were as disconnected as Benny, the friend who sold out.
As the glue, though, Ferber was just right. He had the energy to pull us into the lives of those living hand-to-mouth in that oh-so-bad building.
He had the weight of “Rent” on his shoulders and wasn’t afraid to convey its urgency to the audience.
A fine production, this “Rent” was a good tribute to the original – a show that shifted the musical theater landscape and opened the door for “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” shows that make theater a must, not a maybe.