In defending rights of less fortunate, ‘Rent’ elicits some mixed feelings

by Vicki Paris Goodman

Rent, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical phenomenon, is back in L.A. for just 14 performances. Featuring original Broadway cast members Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, as well as original “Seasons of Love” soloist Gwen Stewart, the production certainly hasn’t lost any of its original quality or heart.
Written by the late Jonathan Larson, Rent seeks to expose the harsh and grainy lives of a group of young “starving artists” and their friends in New York City. Paying the rent is the least of their woes as they deal with drugs, sex, homosexuality and the inevitable HIV positive status that their lifestyle promotes.
As relationships come and go, and dreams seem increasingly out of reach, there doesn’t seem to be much hope in the lives of these gorgeous twenty-somethings. That’s the part that’s a little counterintuitive. But this wouldn’t be the first show to ask its audience to just go with the program. I guess I can do that.
In high energy musical numbers choreographed by Marlies Yearby, the show’s A+ cast perform the emotion-packed and often angst-filled songs, many of which actually possess unique melodies. Wow.
Regular infusions of humor keep the show, which depicts the ravages of AIDS, from becoming too bleak. I particularly loved the resigned and telling “Tango: Maureen.” But nothing could keep Rent from taking itself too seriously.
Michael Greif directs the athletic and talented ensemble, which also includes Michael McElroy, Jacques C. Smith, Haneefah Wood, Justin Johnston, Lexi Lawson, Nicolette Hart, Caren Tackett, John Watson, Adam Halpin, Andy Senor and Yuka Takara. An on-stage six-piece orchestra provides musical accompaniment.
Rent defends the rights of the homeless, pits tenants against landlords, and celebrates political protests. If only it didn’t glorify junkies and irresponsibility. Oh, well, it’s just another sign of the times.
Rent continues at The Pantages Theatre, at 6233 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, through March 8. Performances are Tuesday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, Sunday at 1pm and 6:30pm. Ticket prices are $25 to $75. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster at (213) 365-3500 or (714) 740-7878, or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets are also available in person at the Pantages Box Office and at all Ticketmaster outlet locations. Additional information is available at www.siteforrent.com.

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