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Review: ‘Rent’ at The Hippodrome Theatre

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Fans of Rent, it’s time to “Occupy Baltimore” once again. Hook yourselves up with tickets by any means necessary to that 20th Anniversary Tour making a brief, flash-point stop inside the old Hippodrome Theatre.

Paul Clay’s New York set design — love that tower of metal and rubble — prepares the audience for a piece of improvised street theater. But Rent has more to offer than that. This is its 20th anniversary tour, after all.

Skyler Volpe and Kaleb Wells in the Rent 20th Anniversary Tour. Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg.

Jonathan Larson based his 1996 book, music and lyrics on the Puccini opera La Boheme. Much as George Gershwin did in Porgy and Bess, Larson employs idioms and mores of a vibrant subculture to romanticize themes of addiction, temptation, disability and love among the underclass.

Larson’s underclass, however, consists mostly of the children of the privileged class. His modern-day bohemians have eschewed their parents’ idea of success in favor of unbridled freedom and a daring “live for today” philosophy.

Larson’s music is often loud and driving, but its tonal furies suit the personalities of these self-styled rebels. To underscore the point, Director Evan Ensign has assembled a brash and gritty assortment of rising stars.

Danny Harris Kornfeld makes for the likably “normal” one, Mark Cohen, a would-be documentary filmmaker. He is still reeling from his break-up with the impulsive bisexual, Maureen, played by the remarkable Katie Lamark. Lamark shows us how she commands such wide appeal, and renders the freeform performance art piece “Over the Moon” as coherently as it has ever been on stage.

Sharing Mark’s abandoned digs is Roger, a former front man in a rock band and now a recovering smack addict with HIV. Kaleb Wells projects his failing health while providing much of the evening’s most heartfelt vocalizing.

Leaving an indelible impression as Mimi, the East Village vamp with a scandalous work resume, is Skyler Volpe. She is no less than electric prowling through an upper-loft window with a not-for-the-meek threat to trigger the nuclear sex option in her solo “Out Tonight.”

Aaron Harrington plays Tom Collins, the African-American computer-science teacher who left gainful employment at MIT to embrace “La Vie Boheme” as a full-time homosexual. Harrington proves his power during his big vocal moments in the love duet, “I’ll Cover You.”

David Merino as Angel in Rent, the 20th Anniversary Tour. Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg.

Quickly establishing himself as audience catnip is David Merino as the openhearted transsexual, Angel. With a no-holds-barred smile and an excess of energy, Merino inhabits the role in a New York minute, from his very first bars of the rousing, “Today 4 You.”

Jasmine Easler is another cast standout as Mark’s female rival, Joanne, especially when performing the “Tango: Maureen” with Kornfeld. Christian Thompson rounds out the ensemble as — believe it or not — a sympathetic slumlord named Benjamin Coffin III.

Choreographer Marlies Yearby demands sharp gestures and precision from a show that too often encourages a level of self-expression. The result is heartening, both in the mesmerizing moves of Mimi and Maureen, as well as in production numbers like “On the Street” and “Seasons of Love.”

The live musical direction of Samuel Bagala slams and hammers with the best of alt-rock abandon, then gives gracious support to the score’s quieter moments of choral harmony. The Sound Design of Keith Caggiano grows a little harsh at times, but no voice is ever lost or lyric buried.

With Evan Ensign basing this anniversary staging on the original direction of Michael Greif for the New York Theatre Workshop, this will stand as the authoritative production for some time to come. Do not miss it.

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Rent plays through tomorrow, April 2, 2027, at the Hippodrome Theatre – The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center – 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call Charge-by-phone at 800-982-ARTS, or purchase them online.

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