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Review: ‘Rent’ at the National Theatre

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Okay, twenty years ago I was more concerned with raising kids than living rough on the street, but that’s what the current tour of Rent celebrates. Where to live, how to love, finding work, survival, family are all on raw display from the moment the lights come up.

The cast of the 20th Anniversary tour of Rent. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Creator Jonathan Larson depicts how life in the big city demands everything you’ve got and more. Director Evan Ensign has created a vivid production with edgy mechanical erector sets created by Paul Clay and Matthew Maraffi .

Tom Collins, played by Aaron Harrington, is down on his luck until David Merino’s character Angel comes to the rescue in their opening duet “You Okay Honey?” When Kaleb Wells delivers Roger Davis’ desperation for success with “One Song Glory”, we meet Mimi Marquez played by Skyler Volpe. Volpe rapidly steals the show with “Out Tonight” – a smoking hot, ‘mic-drop’ vamp on the fire escape.

Skylar Volpe and Kaleb Wells in Rent. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

I was struck by the clarity and dynamics of Keith Caggiano’s sound design. Clear and sparkling and frequently coordinated precisely with Jonathan Spencer’s lighting design such aswhen Joanne Jefferson, played by Alia Hodge, hangs up a payphone at the end of “We’re Okay” and the stage goes completely black!

Jefferson and Mark Cohen played by Danny Harris Kornfeld act as their own mutual support group as he laments his former romance with her current love interest Maureen Johnson played by Katie Lamark. Maureen delivers a deliciously raucous protest performance of “Over the Moon”. Maureen and the entire cast are protesting unfair property ownership and management practices of Benjamin Coffin III who is portrayed in all his smarmy glory by Christian Thompson.

The choreography of Marles Yearby is absolutely spot on in every moment but particularly just before intermission when the cast is seated at a long restaurant table and every head and hand gesture is perfectly synced during “La Vie Boheme.”

Act Two is immediately highlighted with a soprano solo by Alia Hodge during “Seasons of Love” which nearly brought the audience to its feet. Conductor and keyboardist Samuel Bagalà deserves full recognition as the fuel that keeps the entire production on track and over the top. I also want to praise the excellent and obvious diligence of the property team for telephones and other props displayed during the production. So easy to overlook, but lovingly presented in authentic antiquity!

Despite being scolded a couple of times for singing along in my seat, I enjoyed every minute of this production and recommend you hurry to buy any of the remaining seats as soon as possible.

Running Time: Two and a half hours, with a 20 minute intermission.

Rent‘ performs June 21 through June 25, 2017 at The National Theatre, Washington DC – 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, in Washington, DC 20004. For tickets, call (202) 628-6161, or purchase them online.

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