The touring company of Rent. (Photos by Carol Rosegg)

The Broadway in Atlanta series is presenting the 20th Anniversary national touring production of “Rent,” running at the Fox Theatre through Feb. 28 (take note: an extra three days, and better seats are available — for now, anyway).

Actually, “Rent” premiered on Broadway in 1996, 22 years ago, but it’s an extensive tour; don’t quibble.

The cast of Rent

Instead, like all good Rent-heads (super fans of the show), be grateful it’s here. It’s a first class, outstanding production; since it’s close to selling out, you should stop reading now and get tickets; then come back.

I love to recall that I saw the original cast in its final preview of “Rent” on April 27, 1996 (the Broadway opening night was April 29). It remains one of the most thrilling evenings I’ve ever spent in a theatre.

As you probably know, the composer and creator of “Rent,” 35-year-old Jonathan Larson, died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm on the first night of the Off-Broadway opening; thankfully, he did see the final rehearsal, and I like to think he knew he had done it.

His death both traumatized and electrified the cast. The final words in the show are “No day but today.” Suddenly life and art merged, and the cast jumped over the moon, as a line from “Rent” says.

Jonathan Larson was often asked, what’s “Rent” about? He came up with a succinct reply: “ ‘Rent’ is about a community celebrating life, in the face of death and AIDS, at the turn of the century.” It’s set in New York’s East Village; the plot is loosely based on Puccini’s opera “La Bohème.”

Did you know if there had been no “Rent” there would have been no “Hamilton”? “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda saw “Rent” when he was 17 and has said: “ ‘Rent’ rocked my perception of what musical theatre could be. It was the first musical I had ever seen with a cast as diverse as the subway riders I saw on the way to school. It was the first musical I had ever seen that took place in the present day, and sounded like the present day. The characters were worried about the things I was worried about.”

Sammy Ferber, Marcus John and Kaleb Wells

“We begin.” Those are the show’s first words, spoken by Mark (Sammy Ferber), an aspiring filmmaker, to the audience and his roommate Roger (Kaleb Wells), an aspiring singer-songwriter and HIV positive ex-junkie. They live in a dilapidated loft, and they have an illegal wood burning stove—you get the picture. They also have burning ambition, and they believe “the opposite of war isn’t peace…it’s creation.” Roger dreams of writing one great song (“One Song Glory”) to leave behind.

But America isn’t kind to its struggling artists; only successful ones. As Mark is leaving to help his ex-girlfriend Maureen (Lyndie Moe—a singing, comic revelation) with a gig, Mimi (Yael Reich), a downstairs neighbor, shows up asking Roger to light her candle; the power has gone out. Mimi and Roger are instantly attracted to each other, with more in common than they know.

Ms. Reich seems a bit miscast: She is talented, but her big Broadway voice belies a delicacy and vulnerability that Mimi has, even in her famous “Out Tonight” number. Fortunately, she tones it down in the second act, especially when Mimi falls ill.

Meanwhile, the landlord Benny (Marcus John) shows up demanding rent money. An old friend, Tom Collins (Josh Walker) has been mugged and is helped by Angel (Aaron Alcaraz, an audience favorite), a street musician whose gentle kindness quite overwhelms Tom; it isn’t long before they’re in love.

The saucy Maureen, by the way, left Mark for Joanne (Jasmine Easler); their “Take Me or Leave Me” is a highlight in an evening of highlights.

Aaron Alcaraz and Aaron Harrington

If “La Vie Bohème,” a celebration of the bohemian life of artists, doesn’t get your toes tapping, you’d better consult your doctor. I’m sure you’ve heard of “Seasons of Love.”

Every actor I’ve mentioned is an accomplished, attractive, talented professional. The director is Evan Ensign; the original director is Michael Greif. Choreography is by Marlies Yearby; music supervision and additional arrangements are by Tim Weil. The book, music, and lyrics are by Jonathan Larson.

Okay, you know about the gigantic Fox. I was very fortunate last night; I had excellent seats, for which I’m very grateful. I think one enjoys the show more up close; but that’s not always possible. So we do the best we can. The sound, happily, is perfect.

“Rent” moves people. I ran into a former student (now a grown man) who has seen the show 20 times. And I thought I was a Rent-head! I was very moved, again, last night.

See it, even if you’ve seen it before. As Roger and Mimi tell us, “There’s only us, there’s only this; forget regret or life is yours to miss.”

For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.org.

28 replies on “Theatre Review: ‘Rent’ at The Fox Theatre”

  1. To our INtown readers: I just noticed on the foxtheatre.org page that there are a limited number of “pit seats” at present for every performance! These are seats in the orchestra pit (raised) which are not normally used. But they are the very closest to the stage of any seats in the house! Just keep clicking, go to the exact performance you want, click on the pit seats, and pick your exact seat. Or if you see stray orchestra seats, select them. But those pit seats are prime–check now! Cheers–!

  2. To our INtown readers: I just noticed on the foxtheatre.org page that there are a limited number of “pit seats” at present for every performance! These are seats in the orchestra pit (raised) which are not normally used. But they are the very closest to the stage of any seats in the house! Just keep clicking, go to the exact performance you want, click on the pit seats, and pick your exact seat. Or if you see stray orchestra seats, select them. But those pit seats are prime–check now! Cheers–!

  3. I’m not sure what production you were watching, but based n this evening’s performance either you know very little about theatre or you were drunk. To call this tour amateurish is an insult to the many talented amateur companies around the US. Overly melodramatic and caricaturish, this horribly paced travesty, performed by singers lacking the vocal range or sophistication to handle the music, would never have made it out of previews, much less win the Pulitzer and Tony.

  4. I’m not sure what production you were watching, but based n this evening’s performance either you know very little about theatre or you were drunk. To call this tour amateurish is an insult to the many talented amateur companies around the US. Overly melodramatic and caricaturish, this horribly paced travesty, performed by singers lacking the vocal range or sophistication to handle the music, would never have made it out of previews, much less win the Pulitzer and Tony.

  5. What happened at the Wed, Feb 21 performance? During first musical number, everything stopped for about 30 minutes, then restarted with an announcement of two cast member adjustments.

  6. What happened at the Wed, Feb 21 performance? During first musical number, everything stopped for about 30 minutes, then restarted with an announcement of two cast member adjustments.

  7. J. E. Moris: So sorry your experience was unsatisfactory. It was very satisfactory indeed to thousands of others. As for pace, the show ran the exact time Rent normally runs; of course intermission is longer at the Fox because of its size.

  8. J. E. Moris: So sorry your experience was unsatisfactory. It was very satisfactory indeed to thousands of others. As for pace, the show ran the exact time Rent normally runs; of course intermission is longer at the Fox because of its size.

  9. Skyler Volpe wasn’t Mimi, she’s been out of the show since the Las Vegas run due to an injury. Your review should be edited to reflect that one of her understudies was on for her

  10. Skyler Volpe wasn’t Mimi, she’s been out of the show since the Las Vegas run due to an injury. Your review should be edited to reflect that one of her understudies was on for her

  11. I was at the Feb 22 performance and left at intermission, along with a lot of other people. I’ve never done that before. The sound was bad, so there was no figuring out what the musical was all about. Maybe if I’d seen it before, it might have been okay, but that’s not a good standard.

  12. I was at the Feb 22 performance and left at intermission, along with a lot of other people. I’ve never done that before. The sound was bad, so there was no figuring out what the musical was all about. Maybe if I’d seen it before, it might have been okay, but that’s not a good standard.

  13. Kathy: Through our PR representative with Broadway in Atlanta, I found out that Yael Reich performed the role of Mimi on Tuesday, Feb. 20, the night I saw the show, and we changed the copy. All I have to go on is what the program says, and Skyler Volpe was the listed player. The program always says (and this is probably an Equity regulation): “Understudies never substitute for listed performers unless a specific announcement is made at the time of the appearance.” No announcement was made, and there was no insert in the program. I am not privy as to internal cast changes that are unannounced, and I don’t know what changes may be made in the rest of the run.
    Also–C. Kelly, Ruth, and K. Blank: There were no delays or tech problems on Tuesday. Sorry you experienced some; getting the sound right for the huge Fox is never easy, although the delay could have been anything. Very unusual.

  14. Kathy: Through our PR representative with Broadway in Atlanta, I found out that Yael Reich performed the role of Mimi on Tuesday, Feb. 20, the night I saw the show, and we changed the copy. All I have to go on is what the program says, and Skyler Volpe was the listed player. The program always says (and this is probably an Equity regulation): “Understudies never substitute for listed performers unless a specific announcement is made at the time of the appearance.” No announcement was made, and there was no insert in the program. I am not privy as to internal cast changes that are unannounced, and I don’t know what changes may be made in the rest of the run.
    Also–C. Kelly, Ruth, and K. Blank: There were no delays or tech problems on Tuesday. Sorry you experienced some; getting the sound right for the huge Fox is never easy, although the delay could have been anything. Very unusual.

  15. We went to the Saturday night show. I do not believe the director ever sat in the seats. The acoustics from the band and the mixing were absolutely horrible. It was extremely difficult to gear the singing as the music was that of a cover band. I have seen Rent in another venue it was totally different. This production was a mess. Many people left at intermission and I don’t blame them.

  16. We went to the Saturday night show. I do not believe the director ever sat in the seats. The acoustics from the band and the mixing were absolutely horrible. It was extremely difficult to gear the singing as the music was that of a cover band. I have seen Rent in another venue it was totally different. This production was a mess. Many people left at intermission and I don’t blame them.

  17. The Fox Theatre has just over 4500 seats. As I’ve said quite often, it’s really much too big for legitimate (live) theatre. If you’re so far back that you can’t see expressions on the actors’ faces, it ceases to be real live theatre (for me). But that (the Fox) is what we’ve got for big touring shows. And we won’t even get into possible sound problems. Amazingly, for some shows (like “Phantom”), the place works; perhaps because “Phantom” takes place in an opera house. I always try for seats as close to the front as possible; obviously it’s not always possible. So you have to make a decision whether to go if you’ve got “bad” seats. I was very fortunate; when I saw “Rent,” I had a great seat and also no sound problems. Other folks had problems. Life is complex in the big city.

  18. The Fox Theatre has just over 4500 seats. As I’ve said quite often, it’s really much too big for legitimate (live) theatre. If you’re so far back that you can’t see expressions on the actors’ faces, it ceases to be real live theatre (for me). But that (the Fox) is what we’ve got for big touring shows. And we won’t even get into possible sound problems. Amazingly, for some shows (like “Phantom”), the place works; perhaps because “Phantom” takes place in an opera house. I always try for seats as close to the front as possible; obviously it’s not always possible. So you have to make a decision whether to go if you’ve got “bad” seats. I was very fortunate; when I saw “Rent,” I had a great seat and also no sound problems. Other folks had problems. Life is complex in the big city.

  19. I have been a season ticket holder of 5+ years, also I have seen over 50 plays at the Fox theatre and I have never seen one this awful. During every scene my whole family just turned and gestures to each other “what I’m the world is going on?” Not to mention the fact that nobody could carry a tune! My dad has been waiting 20 years to see this play and we were contemplating leaving at intermission. Awful play.

  20. I have been a season ticket holder of 5+ years, also I have seen over 50 plays at the Fox theatre and I have never seen one this awful. During every scene my whole family just turned and gestures to each other “what I’m the world is going on?” Not to mention the fact that nobody could carry a tune! My dad has been waiting 20 years to see this play and we were contemplating leaving at intermission. Awful play.

  21. That “awful play” won the Pulitzer Prize, the Best Musical Tony, and a host of other awards, not to mention fans all over the world, many of whom call themselves “Rentheads.” You’re obviously not one of them, and that’s fine; to each her/his own. Did you have bad seats? And sorry Dad didn’t enjoy it, since he waited 20 years. I’ll bet he knew the lyrics and music.

  22. That “awful play” won the Pulitzer Prize, the Best Musical Tony, and a host of other awards, not to mention fans all over the world, many of whom call themselves “Rentheads.” You’re obviously not one of them, and that’s fine; to each her/his own. Did you have bad seats? And sorry Dad didn’t enjoy it, since he waited 20 years. I’ll bet he knew the lyrics and music.

  23. I, too, was at the Saturday night show. This is the fourth time I have seen Rent (one of those times was at the Fox — the tour that included Constantine Maroulis), and this was by far the worst performance I have seen. The sound mixing was bad, and I felt zero connection between Roger and Mimi. (To me, that is a make-or-break for the show, as their storyline is a central one.) The pacing also felt VERY fast, almost as though songs were being checked off a list as they were being completed. (I’ve never heard Maureen’s “show” performed with practically no dramatic pauses.) I love RENT and think it is an amazing show, but this production just felt flat to me. (Also, my seats were in the front of the first dress circle with a clear view of the stage, so while they weren’t “great” seats…they weren’t any worse than the vantage point from which I’ve see the show before.)

  24. I, too, was at the Saturday night show. This is the fourth time I have seen Rent (one of those times was at the Fox — the tour that included Constantine Maroulis), and this was by far the worst performance I have seen. The sound mixing was bad, and I felt zero connection between Roger and Mimi. (To me, that is a make-or-break for the show, as their storyline is a central one.) The pacing also felt VERY fast, almost as though songs were being checked off a list as they were being completed. (I’ve never heard Maureen’s “show” performed with practically no dramatic pauses.) I love RENT and think it is an amazing show, but this production just felt flat to me. (Also, my seats were in the front of the first dress circle with a clear view of the stage, so while they weren’t “great” seats…they weren’t any worse than the vantage point from which I’ve see the show before.)

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