Cover photo: The company of RENT, photo by Amy Boyle
Eight. Times. Sure, I’ve seen movies that many times or more. Even some television shows. But a musical? Surprisingly, I’m in the minority for the number of times someone has seen RENT. Meaning…there are people who have seen the show way more than that. “RENTheads” are out there. They are dedicated, hardcore fans of the show and they are the reason why this musical, which debuted in 1996 (and won the Tony for Best Musical), is still touring today. Our love for RENT is so big and so strong that the show returned to Philadelphia this weekend following a sold out run in March.
Every time I see the show, I notice things I haven’t noticed before. Maybe it’s because there is so much energy and passion in each role, it’s hard to fixate on every character or every part of the stage (the set design is simple and perfect). I also think it’s because Mark Cohen, Roger Davis, and their friends who turn into family all have evolved throughout the last two decades. The actors know how loved these characters are and while they take their roles seriously, they also seem to put a little of their own personalities into the parts they play. I noticed this especially in cast members Juan Luis Espinal (Benny) and Joshua Tavares (Angel) during “You’ll See”. It’s incredible to witness different versions of the eight main characters depending on who is playing them at any given performance. RENT is special in that way.
Cody Jenkins was the best Mark I’ve seen to date (excluding the time I saw Anthony Rapp perform, who was the original Mark). Aiyana Smash was perfect as Mimi Marquez. “Out Tonight” is a tough song to perform (just watch all of the flexibility and balance that goes into that number). Then there is Philly’s Shafiq Hicks as Tom Collins. In a recent interview with Shafiq, he told us that playing Tom was a dream role. It’s obvious how much love he has for this show and that character. Nailed it.
Honestly, though, I’ve never seen a performance of RENT and thought “wow, that actor was terrible in the role of (insert beloved RENT character here).” Those actors know how important it is to get these roles just right.
Throughout the show, I heard various audience members whisper a lyric or line as the character was saying it. While this is usually a big theatre no-no, we all know it’s hard to resist with when it comes to RENT. I’m certain 95% of the audience had seen the show before. Pro tip: rock out to “La Vie Boheme” in the car on the way to the show instead, just in case you’re seated next to someone who hasn’t seen it before.
You can catch RENT this evening (come on, you’re hunkered down inside catching up on TV because it’s chilly out, yet you know you’re looking for something to do…tickets are still available) or again tomorrow. Don’t forget to try your chance at the lottery for affordable $25 tickets, close to the stage. RENT has a rock concert vibe (still, bring some tissues), so why not get as close as you can? For tickets (10/19 at 8pm, 10/20 at 1pm and 6:30pm) and lottery details (available two hours prior to each performance), visit the Kimmel Center website.
Seeing RENT when it comes to town is just something you do as a RENThead. Join us.