Rent’s 25th-anniversary National Farewell “Seasons of Love” Tour wields electric emotional power, thanks to classic staging and costumes and electric new performances. Jonathan Larson’s music stuns with choreography not only danced but acted — and with skilled actors who portray archetypes ideally suited to the characters they occupy within the play’s storyline.
Aiyana Smash and Javon King in particular, as Mimi Márquez and Angel Dumott Schunard, elicit gasps with their stunningly executed stunt choreography. They dance on rails 15 feet off the ground and jump onto tables in four-inch stilettos, to wild applause from the audience. These actors perform 25-year-old iconic dance numbers with ease and comfort in the songs “Out Tonight” and “Today 4 U” while fully inhabiting their characters — bohemians beaten down by the system and just bursting with feeling and sincerity in the face of their oppressors.
The characters’ choreography is a perfect channel for showing off costume designer Angela Wendt’s lovingly bold but classic-to-the-iconic-show choices for this rogue’s gallery of struggling artists. Jonathan Spencer’s intricate lighting design, pulled off with impressive technical excellence and attention to timing and detail, brings the colors of Matthew E. Maraffi’s adaptation of Paul Clay’s set design and Wendt’s costumes into greater focus. And Michael Greif’s original direction seems engineered to give every heartfelt detail of this production the vivid display it deserves.
In the main role of the documentary maker Mark Cohen is J.T. Wood, who brings a youthful, innocent liveliness to the character that stands in meaningful contrast to the worldliness of the drug-using, sexualized bohemians he lives amongst. Wood’s young countenance and animated physicality — immediately visible in the titular early number “Rent,” which J.T. Wood bounces his way through with a grin — emphasize his youth and turns the character into an even more effective lens through which characters who might not identify with the bohemians but might with a preppy kid can view the show.
Meanwhile, the character Maureen Johnson, a performance artist of tremendous confidence — who really ought to have less of it — as well as a fireball of flirtation and feeling, is played with such unfettered, red-hot chutzpah and excellence by Lyndie Moe that her “performance art” song “Over the Moon,” which narratively should serve to demonstrate that Maureen is not nearly as skilled an artist as she believes herself to be, is delivered so well by Moe that it makes Maureen seem… actually good at her job.
Lyndie Moe is so excellent at vocalizing and inhabiting this confident character that she demands with ferocity her audience’s full respect and attention toward that character’s bad “performance art” to a degree that she gets that respect — just slightly too much. Overconfidence in Maureen would have worked if it were accompanied by a more mediocre performance of “Over the Moon,” but it was performed with too much, for lack of a better word, non-cringiness for the song’s narrative purpose. Lyndie Moe lets her own tremendous talent be too prominently on display… which is, of course, not an awful problem for a show to have.
Rent’s farewell tour ends its three-day run at the National Theatre on Sunday, March 27 and I hope that many Washingtonians are able to see it. This show is a Pulitzer-winning cultural touchdown with a cast that is — sometimes to a fault — profoundly talented, and for that we applaud them.
Running time: Approximately two hours 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
The cast and creative team credits are online here.
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