Arts Theatre

Decent payday

Rent's best in its big moments

Mixed performances hit the major moments with power

So, Rent is a modern Broadway smash, but I don't think it's unfair to say that it trades on some of Broadway's baser tendencies, namely melodrama (you might remember the final number of Team America's Rent parody was "Everybody has AIDS!") and (literal) show-stoppers. It's easy to understand why the film failed to ignite the passions that the stage version can: without feeling the live thrill of someone belting out the words that might ruin/save their life, the patchwork manipulation of the story and the ridiculous metaphors of the lyrics come to the forefront, leaving the musical feeling less like an essential statement about late-'80s New York bohemia and more like a maudlin update of Puccini's classic opera.

With those key elements, though, it's not hard to understand why this woke up a whole new generation of young musical-goers (the fabled Rentheads, or as J Kelly Nestruck once put it "the most annoying of all musical fans"). With its nods to modern pop and rock—though I'd hesitate to call them more than nods, even for the mid-'90s playing the late-'80s—its lightly romanticized world where aspiring filmmakers and rock stars and performance artists are the arbiters of true feeling and its frequent but powerful tragic numbers, it's almost scientifically designed to speak to those of a certain temperament. And, to its credit, Martin Galba's production zeros right in on that appeal and doesn't look back.

As mentioned, a lot of this depends on getting caught under the spell of the performers, and here there's something of a mixed bag, though it's right more than it's wrong. I saw the opening night "Blue" cast, which featured several stand-out performances. Adam Mazerolle-Kuss struggled as filmmaker/narrator Mark—he felt much more like someone who was excited to be singing numbers he's done into the bathroom mirror than a true character—but the relationships he documents were very well-played: Alix Ryan-Wong fell a bit flat with her solo as exotic dancer Mimi ("Out Tonight") but otherwise captured the doomed affair between her and George Krissa's struggling musician Roger, who has one of the show's highlights, beautifully. Even better was the combination of Tyler Smith and Tyler Pinsent as Collins and Angel, respectively: the former brought a certain stoicism to his philosophy prof that lent the maudlin second half some grounding, while the latter nailed the insouciant but intense charisma of his doomed drag queen. Less successful was the performance artist/manager duo of Maureen (Nicole English) and Joanne (Brittany Taylor): the former couldn't rise above a part that's frankly a little annoying, while the latter sung quite well, but likewise couldn't really flesh out an underdeveloped role.

The cast as a whole definitely hits the major moments, though, which are quite key. Whatever is lacking in character development needs to be made up for with powerful singing, and there was rarely a doubt that they felt the big moments—which is enough, really, to remind one why exactly Rent got so big in the first place. V

Until Sat, Jun 26 (7:30 pm; Sat Matinee 2 pm)
Directed by Martin Galba
Music, book and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Starring George Krissa, Richie Cannon, Alix Ryan-Wong, Nevada Collins-Lee
La Cite Francophone (8627 – 91 St), $25

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