As a theatre geek who has never seen a musical production live, I can say that when I saw “Rent” at Fox Theatre on opening night Feb. 20, it was a phenomenal introduction to Broadway. “Rent” is a rock musical by Jonathan Larson that opened on Broadway in 1996, set in 1990 New York where the characters face not only the AIDS/HIV epidemic, but also being broke in the big city. I had no idea what to expect. Not only had I never seen a single Broadway show, I had never seen the 2005 film “Rent.” The only way I can describe what I experienced is a beautiful mess.
The first thing I noticed was the Broadway actors’ voices. The first actors to sing in the opening musical number, “Tune Up #1&2,” were Kaleb Wells who played Roger Davis, a guy who is depressed after his girlfriend committed suicide leaving a note telling him that they were both HIV positive, Sammy Ferber who played Mark Cohen, a filmmaker whose girlfriend dumped him for a girl, Aaron Harrington who played Tom Collins, a college professor who just returned from MIT, and lastly Christian Thompson who played Benny, their former roommate and current building owner.
The voices of everyone in the show were so unique and almost Grammy worthy. I remember thinking how talented one person has to be to sing and act in one show. I realize that’s what Broadway is, but it almost felt as though their talent slapped me in the face all at once when the show began. That was one of the standout parts of the whole show.
That excitement was soon swapped with confusion as the first act progressed. I felt as though I was failing a test, trying to guess who was who in the play. The characters were introduced too briefly, and only after the second act did I truly understand every character. If you go to this show, I recommend knowing the characters before you come to get the whole experience.
The effect of the play is something that I would never forget. For example, one of my favorite moments was the musical number “Tango: Maureen” where Mark Cohen and his ex-girlfriend’s new lover Joanne Jefferson, played by Jasmine Easler are in an argument about how their shared lover manipulates both of them. I really enjoyed this part, because it captured the scandalous essence of the entire show all while being incredibly performed.
Even though all of the characters were being thrown at me at once, and I didn’t really have a real grasp of everybody until the second act, I left the theatre in a daze to what I had just witnessed. The show left me a fan of Broadway, a fan of the actors, and a huge fan of “Rent.” I went home and did research on the actors and character origins, I watched the movie (which doesn’t really stack up by the way) and was even tempted to buy the merch.
“Rent” made the bohemian lifestyle and being broke in the big city almost seem alluring. Even with all the bad things that came with it, the sense of community made me want to be friends with every character. Their performances were so enchanting that I truly believed in each character.
Above Photo: The 2oth Anniversary National Touring Company of “Rent”
VOX got to attend this performance thanks to the nonprofit Most Valuable Kids – Atlanta, which partners with local venues and nonprofits to provide experiences for Atlanta-area youth.