Once again reinventing the way we perceive musicals, New Line Theatre has taken “Rent,” set it slightly askew and made us enjoy it despite ourselves. A lot of people on opening night were telling me they’d never really liked the show (I’ve always liked it but never “loved” it like this!). A lot of attitudes changed as we were leaving- even at intermission- and the new concept and the advantage of intimacy that New Line always offers, makes this one a big, fat hit.
Young, energetic actors/singers dominate the stage as the story of “La Vie Boheme” jumps out and meets the audience head on. In fact, a lot of audience participation includes Mimi lap-dancing, the cast reaching out and holding audience members’ hands, plenty of eye contact and several trips up the aisles as this “in your face” production connects with rather than intimidates the audience. Speaking of Mimi, local favorite Anna Skidis is powerful, intimidating and downright lovable as the tragic heroine of “Rent.” From her moving and touching meeting with Roger in “Light My Candle” to her “La Boheme” Mimi finale dying of consumption (or is that an overdose?) is one solid performance throughout. As Roger, Evan Fornachon is perfect as the brooding artist until his emotions pour out in that final scene.
Sarah Porter shines as the unpredictable Maureen. Her interpretation of the “Over The Moon” song is priceless and, in typical Maureen fashion, brings a whole new concept as she brings the moon down from the sky and into the audience’s face. As her on-again, off-again love interest, Cody LaShea is a delightful Joanne. Their duet of “Take Me Or Leave Me” is one of the many highlights of this production. In another off-kilter romance that seems perfectly natural is Luke Steingruby as the cross-dressing performer Angel and the heart-of-gold Tom Collins, another wonderful performance by Marshall Jennings. From a WWI soldier in “All Is Calm” last year to the sweet Marilyn Monroe look-alike in “Rent,” Mr. Steingruby proves his versatility.
Jeremy Hyatt is outstanding as the baby-faced videographer, Mark and Shawn Bowers is perfectly sleazy as Mimi’s ex while the solid cast of New Line regulars (plus a few new faces) take control of this revamped “Rent” and everybody has their moment to shine while ably backing up the featured players. It’s a total effort that shows, once again, the diversity and depth of New Line talent. Scott Miller has once again put his personal stamp on a classic show and it turns out to be yet another audience pleaser.
Justin Smolik leads the powerful New Line band and Rob Lippert has brought a whole new concept to the staging of “Rent” with his unusual set design. A huge round, raked piece dominates the center stage area surrounded by the typical low-rent look of the denizens of early 1990′s New York. From the driving “Rent” title number to the powerful first act closer right through the show’s most popular number, “Seasons Of Love” and into the touching “Your Eyes” finale, this score is pulsating, tender and just a pure delight. Now we have a production that matches these great songs and makes you actually like the people who populate the show. This one’s a big hit, folks and a lot of dates are already sold out. Call Metrotix at 314-534-1111 and secure your seat for “Rent” at New Line Theatre. It plays through March 29th.