Dallas — Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m., central standard time…for those of us who grew up with a little musical called Rent, we can’t believe 20 years went by so fast. But believe it or not, the 20th anniversary tour has landed in Dallas, running through Oct. 2 as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Broadway Series.
The tour is directed by Evan Ensign, who has been involved with Rent since almost the very beginning, and is extremely faithful to the show’s legacy, showing off the heart of the original production thanks to the youthful vigor of the non-equity cast. They’re professionals, no doubt, but not yet perfectly polished. And that’s a good thing—it makes it easier to imagine them as the young bohemians of New York City on the cusp of the new Millennium, and they bring enough energy to shake the foundations of the Winspear Opera House.
The supporting ensemble cast is excellent, drawing the usual laughs with the parental phone calls and messages from Alexi Darling. The soloists in Seasons of Love are quite good, especially Alia Hodge, who radiates pure joy as she sings. The whole ensemble forms a strong backbone for the show, which can flag heavily without the right attitude to bolster it up.
Danny Harris Kornfeld is adorable as Mark, hitting the perfect naive, quirky notes. Some actors play Mark as manic and even bitter (come on, that’s Roger’s job!), but Kornfeld’s Mark feels more hopeful, less jaded. It infuses a lightness and sweetness into his performance that is truly welcome, right along with his stellar voice, which he uses to full effect.
Kaleb Well’s Roger has a voice that’s almost too clear and direct for the character’s growly rock and roll aesthetic, but somehow he makes it work. He also somehow makes the back-and-forth anger—with himself, with Mimi, with Benny, with Mark, with his situation—feel more heartfelt than temper tantrum. His interplay with Kornfeld is especially nice, especially on songs like “What You Own.”
Skyler Volpe is exactly as slinky and sexy as you’d expect Mimi to be, prowling and strutting across the stage to draw Roger out of his loner shell. But she injects her performance with just the right amount of vulnerability, something that is often missing from the role despite her addictions and demons.
Angel is brought to fabulous life by the supremely talented David Marino. It takes a lot to be able to sing, dance, and jump on tables in heels, but Marino pulls that and more off with aplomb while playing off other actors for some good laughs. Marino’s chemistry with Aaron Harrington’s Tom Collins is lovely and believable, practically a requirement for any production of Rent to really work. As always, together they are the heart of the show, one that gets ripped out of your chest when Harrington’s beautiful, booming bass takes on the reprise of “I’ll Cover You” in the second act.
Katie Lamark adds some welcome humor to her portrayal of Maureen, tempering the typical bite of self-centeredness with a little silliness that feels like a breath of fresh air. She’s a good foil for Jasmine Easler’s Joanne, who is full of sass, fire, and a voice twice as big as she is. Easler and Kornfeld are fantastic together in “Tango: Maureen,” showing off echoes of the original Broadway cast that aren’t at all unwelcome while still making the roles unique to them as actors.
The only performance that really falls flat is Christian Thompson’s Benny. There are layers to explore with this character, his almost-forgotten heart and the camaraderie he feels with his old friends despite his newfound riches and privileged attitude. But none of that come through with Thompson’s one-note delivery, especially next to performers who shimmer and spark right off the stage.
Angela Wendt’s costumes are instantly recognizable and feel warmly familiar for long-time Rent fans, like running across your favorite shirt from college—or in this case, your favorite furry bra top, striped sweater and scarf, or metallic latex leggings. And Marlies Yearby’s choreography is faithfully performed with a few new twists for different actors, though iconic pieces like “La Vie Bohème” feel (rightfully) untouched, especially alongside Paul Clay’s original set designs.
The updated sound system, one of the nods to changes in technology since the original production, is right at home in a venue like the Winspear, with only a few fades and crackles revealing any of the typical opening night issues. That adds quite a bit to the production, especially during busy songs like “Christmas Bells.” It’s easier than in previous tours to pick out different individual lines from the cacophony of sound, and the more in-your-face rock pieces lose less of their edge.
All in all, the 20th anniversary tour is a love letter to Rent-heads and a treat for new fans, further cementing the show as a coming-of-age standard in the musical theater repertoire. No matter how many times you see a production of Rent, the message is always applicable: there really is no day but today.
» ATTPAC and TheaterJones are co-hosting an Industry Night, with discounted tickets, for Rent at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27. Read more about it here, which has ticket links and more.