'RENT' Still Resonates in '25th Anniversary Farewell Tour'

by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday January 24, 2022

(l to r) Javon King, Shafiq Hicks in "RENT 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour", Credit Carol Rosegg
(l to r) Javon King, Shafiq Hicks in "RENT 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour", Credit Carol Rosegg  

The mid '90s — Manhattan and a group of artists, homeless folks, and their friends are in for a crazy year. Not only is there a deadly virus to contend with, but drug addiction, lack of heat and clothing, and finding a sense of purpose for all those concerned will need to be dealt with. The world was a different place in 1996 and Jonathan Larson (Book, Music, Lyrics) brought us a show about all of the things that many were experiencing at the time.

"RENT The 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour" which recently played the Providence Performing Arts Center, gets a bit of a facelift this time around; and while things are less dire than they were back when it was originally produced off-Broadway, it still resonates with relevant themes. Larson brought his own experience to the proceedings and nothing speaks volumes like some hard truths.

The show itself is a cacophony of movement and music with lots of energy fueling a story that can be at times hard to follow. As an ensemble, there's no less than eight main characters to get to know as they take us through life, death, drugs, separations and relationship woes. But revisiting a world where people were sick with the HIV virus and still could lose their lives for lack of medical knowledge is hard to conceive for modern audiences. But Evan Ensign directs this fresh take based on original director Michael Grief and it speaks loudly to 21st-century sensibilities.

The highlights: some kicking choreography by Marlies Yearby, who was the one to infuse the show with raw dance moves back in '96. The ever so slightly exaggerated moves work wonders here; plus the over-the-top routines "Out Tonight" and "Today 4 You" are definitely ones that fans expect to see. Good, strong vocals from J.T. Wood as Mark, Lyndie Moe as Maureen, Rayla Garske as Joanna and Shafiq Hicks as Tom Collins. Javon King's Angel is most definitely one to watch, as well as Aiyana Smash as Mimi, whose moves highlight her troubled character.

The cons: Coleman Cummings' Roger lacked edge with vocals that needed the necessary power to complement Mimi and Mark. He seemed to be missing an emotional boost. The sound design is a bit muddled; given that there's quite a bit of harmony, some of the ensemble voices outdid a few of the principals. It's a busy show acoustically but background vocality often muddied the overall "You'll See," though the act one finale "La Vie Boheme/I Should Tell You" was still clear and vibrant. Small things to be sure, but overall the uneven bits vanished almost completely during the second act.

"RENT The 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour" continues through March 8, 2022. For information about the tour, visit its website.