‘Rent’ 20th anniversary dazzles


KIM REED/Courtesy Photo

The Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center (GBPAC) hosted “Rent,” performed by Work Light Productions, on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13.

SHELBY WELSCH, Theater & Event Critic

Popular Broadway rock musical, “Rent,” has raised many eyebrows over the years since its official opening in 1996. It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists who strip, perform and sing in hopes of turning around their lives in New York City during the thriving days of the Bohemian Alphabet City and the AIDS epidemic.

With strong themes such as AIDS, sex, drugs and death, this musical has been one that has shocked many crowds for the last 21 years.

However, there is also a reason why the show has remained the 11th longest running Broadway musical and is still a staple among college campuses and traveling theater groups. The content in the musical is raw and real, and many can appreciate its authenticity.

The music is mind-blowing and not only displays a unique rock n’ roll kind of feeling to the musical, but will leave your foot tapping long after you leave the theater.

The Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center (GBPAC) hosted two fabulous performances of “Rent” on Monday, Feb. 12, and Tuesday, Feb. 13, performed by Work Lights Productions, who are currently touring all around the country in celebration of the musical’s 20th anniversary.

I was absolutely blown away by this production. Every single performer was an expert in their craft, and not only sang beautifully, but were thrilling performers.

Looking around the Great Hall, audience members laughed gleefully at many scenes, including  the hilarious “Tango: Maureen” scene performed by Sammy Ferber as Mark and Joanne as Jasmine Easler, where the two made fun of their shared ex-girlfriend, Maureen, by making up a dance that described her controlling and overbearing demeanor.

When Angel, played by Aaron Alcaraz, passed away from AIDS complications, the laughing ceased, and in their place tears rolled out of my eyes. Angel’s boyfriend, Collins, played by Josh Walker, sang a heartbreaking solo called “I’ll Cover You” that was so raw and touching, that I had to make a conscious effort to not sob too loudly at its beauty. It was that good.

And I wasn’t the only one who felt touched by the performance either. I could hear a chorus of sniffles coming from numerous audience members during that particular performance.

If there is a single song that has gone down in history due to this musical’s popularity, it is “Seasons of Love.” A group called “The Company” came out before the second act and sang the best version of this song that I have ever heard. It truly had it all — seamless runs, gorgeous harmonies — I can’t say enough about how awesome this song was executed.

The bar was set so high from such top caliber singing from almost everybody in this production, that one particular performer seemed to fall a little flat. Mimi Marquez, played by Skyler Volpe, was Roger’s love interest in the musical and had many solos and opportunities to shine throughout. I thought her first appearance in the play was amazing, and I had high hopes that she would continue to wow me. However, that was just not the case.

With inconsistent pitch and hard-to-understand enunciation, I could not place her on the same pedestal that I had placed every other performer in this musical. Perhaps it was an off performance or she caught the flu bug that has been going around, but she unfortunately stood out to me in comparison to the other near-perfect performers that she performed alongside with.

Lastly, the set design is well worth mentioning. It screamed ‘90s grunge with dirty industrial-like walls and lack of furniture, and fit the picture perfectly of what I would expect a “Rent” set to look like.

I also love the feature of having their “pit” of musicians actually take part of the set design. The musicians took camp off to the side of the stage, and this added so much to the rock n’ roll theme to be able to see them shred on their guitars and pound on those drums. This was a unique feature to the musical, and it worked really well.

“Rent” is a musical that I hope continues to go down in history. While our society has grown in acceptance over the past 20 years, there is still much to be said about risqué themes such as sex and drugs, and I think the relevancy of this musical will still stand for a long time into the future.

I feel honored to have been able to attend one of the best shows I have ever seen at the Gallagher Bluedorn.