Whether it’s looked upon as a 1990s time capsule or a musical that speaks to those coming of age in the mid-2010s, “Rent” still holds strong as one of the best works of this generation.
That’s affirmed by the 20th anniversary tour of the musical, which opened Monday at Century II for the first of three nights in Wichita.
While bits and pieces are dated – answering machines and beepers instead of cellphones, for instance – the show’s oversized heart shines through, bringing the opening-night audience to its feet for a standing ovation.
Based on Michael Greif’s original Broadway direction and adapted by Evan Ensign, the cast performs at a frenetic pace, and easily segues from rowdy and rambunctious to a multitude of warm and tender moments in the blink of an eye.
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Although an ensemble piece where several performers shine, “Rent” centers on East Village roommates Roger (played here by Kaleb Wells) and Mark (Sammy Ferber), a wannabe musician and a fledgling filmmaker, respectively, and their friends and fellow artists. The AIDS crisis looms throughout the entire musical, and makes way for some of the most poignant moments of “Rent.”
Wells and Ferber are outstanding, but the rest of the ensemble is created to have plenty of outstanding moments. Included in that are drag queen Angel (Aaron Alcaraz), who finds a tender romance with philosophy professor Tom Collins (Aaron Harrington); Mark’s ex, Maureen (Emporia native Lyndie Moe), who has a tumultuous relationship with lawyer Joanne (Jasmine Easler); and, in perhaps the ensemble’s most vivacious performance, Skyler Volpe as Mimi, an exotic dancer who seeks romance with Roger, who is gun-shy because they’re both HIV-positive.
Mimi’s reckless abandon in her big showcase piece, “Out Tonight,” is one of the tour’s highlights, as well as the introduction of Alcaraz’s Angel, and the so-bad-it’s-good performance art from Moe as Maureen.
Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning music and lyrics (he wrote the book as well) are in excellent hands thanks to the 15-member cast and a five-person on-stage orchestra. The most famous song of “Rent,” the second-act opener “Seasons of Love,” still produces a combination of goosebumps and warm fuzzies.
The orchestra’s space is part of an elaborate two-story set that includes a nebulous helix-shaped object that adjusts to whatever mood or necessity called for by the script.
Even after 20-plus years (the original opened in 1996, and this 20th anniversary tour is set to run through June), the show still has the fresh energy of the original and creates as much excitement as the first run must have.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31 to Wednesday, Nov. 1
Where: Century II, 225 W. Douglas
What: The 20th anniversary tour of the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical
Tickets: $35.50 to $90.50, available at the Century II box office, by phone at 316-303-8100 or online at broadwaywichita.com or wichitatix.com