By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor
This reporter must start by saying, “Rent,” is my favorite musical. I had to remind myself before entering the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., that I could not sing along during the show-which ended up being really, really hard. I came in hoping that the National Theatre’s “Rent 20th Anniversary Tour,” was not a disappointment. Thank goodness for my heart and this review, “Rent,” was not a disappointment at all. It was outstanding.
Many audience members shared my giddy sentiments about going into the production.
“I’m here because I have been a huge fan of “Rent” my entire life, but I’ve never seen it live,” Lyndsey Young told the AFRO. “I’ve watched it live on YouTube and I’ve seen the movie, so to me, this is just an incredible opportunity, and I’m excited to be here.”
“Rent” 20th Anniversary Tour,” will be at the National Theatre in Northwest, D.C. from Nov. 14- Nov.17.
Ethan E. Ashley is also a super-fan, yet he explained why the musical is so incredibly important to him.
“It’s the fifth time I’ve seen it on the stage, and when it was in the movie theaters as a young, gay teen it was just such a cool thing to see representation,” he said.
Local performing artist, Alana Thomas, who currently is in “Little Shop of Horrors with Constellation Theatre Company,” explained she came to cheer on members of the cast, support the arts and celebrate the 20th anniversary.
“I am here to support my friends. I have two friends that are currently in this 20th anniversary production- Juan (Benjamin Coffin III) and James (featured chorus) are in the show and I’ve done shows with them throughout my theatrical career,” she said. “In the arts scene you have to support one another, whether your friends with people or not, to keep the arts thriving in our community and throughout the world. So I am just excited to help commemorate this momentous anniversary with them.”
National Theatre’s “Rent 20th Anniversary Tour” was truly “momentous.”
According to the Playbill, Director Evan Ensign based the 20th anniversary production on the original direction of Michael Greif from the 1999 Broadway show. Knowing the fact that the themes, challenges and messages within the production resonate similarly in 2019 is truly why “Rent,” is such an important, timeless and beautiful piece of theatre.
“It came at an important time to talk about the AIDS crisis and epidemic, which still hasn’t been eradicated. But I think the storyline opens up conversation for folks,” Ashley told the AFRO.
“The parts with gentrification, especially in D.C., that’s a problem we still see in D.C. today- the cost of living and affordability,” Ashley added. “Also it’s incredible the diversity of the cast that they have here, especially in such a diverse city, how important that is.”
Thomas considered how much the play moves her as an adult after having lived the New York artist grind.
“And Rent is so much more relatable now as an adult, than prior when I was in high school- I didn’t really understand it as much. But after have living in New York, going through the struggle as an artist, finding my community, and love and support through it all, the music reverberates in a whole new way for me,” Thomas shared.
Speaking of the music, Tim Weill as Music Supervisor helped beautifully bring the theatrical magic of musical theatre, while helping audiences experience real and relatable challenges, relationships and the meaning of “seasons of love.” The music that is now over two decades old, felt nostalgic while also adding a bit of flare that is pleasing to modern eardrums.
In addition to the enjoyable music, there were strong singers. The clear emotional connection to the words and intentions behind the music and lyrics, were emphasized further by the amazing vocals of the entire cast. I can literally think of only two moments where a note got too low, that I couldn’t hear it from my center orchestra seat, and they’re not worth calling out fully, because they came from extremely entertaining and high-energy performances, that just allowed for the artists and audience to continue with the wonder of the production and storyline.
The friend group of Roger Davis (Coleman Cummings), Mark Cohen (Cody Jenkins), Tom Collins (Shafiq Hicks), Mimi Marquez (Aiyana Smash), Maureen Johnson (Kelsee Sweigard), Angel Schunard (Joshua Tavares), Joanne Jefferson (Samantha Mbolekwa) and Benjamin Coffin III (Juan Luis Espinal) is an outstanding dynamic that shows the variables within relationships and the challenges and benefits of coming together in the name of love. Noteworthy moments include Cummings and Smash’s strong acting, stellar vocals and endearing charm in “Light My Candle;” Tavares’ true to form rendition of Angel’s high-energy, dance heavy (in heels) and entertaining song “Today 4 U;” Cohen’s and Mbolekwa’s harmonies and enchanting dancing in “Tango: Maureen;” and the entire Company’s version of “La Vie Boheme/ I Should Tell You.”
Smash’s performance of “Out Tonight,” was show-stopping. Between the beautiful belts and amazing vocal range, spicy dancing and impressive flexibility, and honest and fun acting, her performance is so convincing that audiences are ready to go out with Mimi (Smash) if the subject of her affection, Roger (Cummings) doesn’t.
In addition, the vocal veracity Hicks gave to the role of Collins completely melted this reporter’s heart. His tonality and emotion perfectly relay the feelings behind the lyrics and music and for those that want a vocal comparison- Hicks is giving a young Luther Vandross with his own deep connections and flare.
Finally Rayla Garske as the soloist in Season of Love is unforgettable and received one of the loudest applauses of the evening. She really did that song justice. She didn’t sing, she “SANG!”
The choreography, by Marlies Yearby was also a beauty to watch on stage. Watching the actors’ movement in general was incredibly impressive and kept audiences engaged. The Sound Design by Keith Caggiano was perfectly executed and nicely fit with each moment. Costumes by Angela Wendt were incredibly aesthetically pleasing and highlighted the characters in a way that both emphasized their personalities and looked great on their figures. The set was so simple and intricate all at once and allowed for better understanding of the lives of the characters in the play, smooth transitions, and always discovering something new.
The National Theatre’s production of “Rent,” is actually what audiences need in a time of political division, gentrification, an immigration crisis, hate crimes, and police shootings. As the holiday season quickly approaches, “Rent,” reminds audiences to, “measure their lives in love.”
“Rent 20th Anniversary Tour,” has a limited run, so if you want to see it, go see it fast as it opens Thursday, Nov. 14 and closes Sunday, Nov. 17.
For tickets and more information on the show visit http://thenationaldc.com.