Jonathan Larson’s rock opera “Rent” opened on Broadway 25 years ago, and now is your last chance to catch the brilliant musical as “Rent 25th Annual Farewell Tour” makes its stop at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre. A fantastic, energetic production about a group of young artists struggling to make it by in bohemian Alphabet City, “Rent” tackles heavy subjects such as HIV/AIDS, drug addiction and homeless communities while supporting the strident narrative with a lot of hope and humor. The farewell tour in all of its glory won’t stay in the Bay for long, and you certainly don’t want to miss it.
“Rent” has several moving plotlines, with all of them connected by an apartment complex and the adjacent lot. The musical opens by introducing two young friends, filmmaker Mark (Cody Jenkins) and musician Roger (Coleman Cummings), who both live in the complex recently bought by their former roommate, Benny (Jarred Bedgood). Reneging on an earlier agreement, Benny demands last year’s rent from the two, but Mark and Roger refuse to pay. Meanwhile, Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen (Lyndie Moe), who had left him for lawyer Joanne (Rayla Garske), is planning a performance protest against Benny’s plans to evict the homeless people from the lot next door. Along with Roger’s new love interest, Mimi (Aiyana Smash), their friend Collins (Shafiq Hicks) and his new boyfriend Angel (Javon King), the struggling group finds solace in each other’s company and tries its best to support all those within it.
The musical offers an incredibly compelling story; its subject matters are certainly bleak, but whether through their unwavering ambitions, bright personalities or small personal successes, the headstrong and determined characters never fail to remind audiences about finding the silver lining. Although the cast of characters come off as quirky and sometimes even a little ridiculous, each character maintains a realistic level of nuance. Behind these eccentric artists are smart, well-rounded human beings who deal with very real issues and are subsequently wizened by these adversities.
The musical doesn’t undermine the consequences of hardships on these individuals, either — it excellently navigates prevalent themes of loss, pain and discrimination by making these cruel realities emotionally piercing to audiences. Even more resounding, however, are the musical’s messages of love and community. After each tragedy and challenge, the characters in “Rent” never fail to find comfort in friendship. Love is never an immediate or complete solution to pain — the musical knows that life isn’t so perfect — but the story reminds both its characters and viewers of the love that persists in spite of loss and suffering. It’s a kind and necessary reminder.
The music in “Rent” is another shining star of the production. Clever, effective lyrics dance atop catchy, memorable melodies throughout. “Light My Candle” perfectly sets up the chemistry between Roger and Mimi, “One Song Glory” breaks hearts, “Over the Moon” is hilariously campy and “Seasons of Love,” of course, beautifully celebrates love, life and the little blessings in them. No musical numbers drag or seem repetitive; all are moving, funny or riveting.
The cast for the farewell tour seems tailor-made for the musical, and there is not a single weak acting or vocal performance in the bunch. Particularly impressive are King’s and Smash’s respective performances as Angel and Mimi. Both actors double as both incredible singers who convey powerful emotions in their songs and athletes who can do it while vigorously moving and dancing. The two possess limitless energy, making their unbelievably difficult roles look like second nature, and they definitely stand out as two of the most captivating performers in a cast full of stars.
Make sure to catch the “Rent 25th Annual Farewell Tour” and witness the phenomenal musical performed by a tremendous cast. This may be the last chance to see it in a while, but hold the stellar production close to your heart — because indeed, the story never ends.