Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes could very well equal a perfect summer theater experience this year.
Luckily, the latest cast of the 1990s AIDS-infused rock opera RENT at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle is spot on with a dynamite young cast that actually leaves you appreciating the bohemian ideals of the time.
They get it right because the cast is young and believable. Credit where credit is due to the original cast, most of whom starred in the 2005 film and several of which recently took on a national tour of the Broadway production. But, most of the cast is pushing 40. And, at that age, they simply wouldn’t be believable as torn artists making stupid mistakes, dealing with death and disease — all while refusing to pay the rent.
RENT works because much of the cast has grown up on stage at the 5th or been recognized by the 5th as standouts in high school. They’re in their 20s, just at the beginning of their careers.
The show takes place in Alphabet City, a desolate part of New York City, rampant with homelessness and crime and centers around a group of friends, who are more interested in their art than in finding a job. The tale mainly centers around Mark (Daniel Berryman), an aspiring filmmaker and musician Roger (Aaron Finley), who live in a industrial warehouse with no heat, now owned by their former roommate Benny (Logan Benedict), who demands past rent. Add to the mix a genius, but jobless, teacher Tom Collins (Brandon O’Neill); the amazing drag queen Angel (Jerrick Hoffer); the strung-out stripper Mimi (Naomi Morgan) and the bizarre love triangle between Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen (Ryah Nixon) and her new girlfriend Joanne (Andi Alhadeff).
Finley and Morgan shine together with songs “Light My Candle” and “Out Tonight.” And Hoffer is spectacular with his versions of “Today 4 U” and “I’ll Cover You.” In fact, Hoffer steals the whole show every time he’s on stage. Of course, that’s a pretty easy thing to do given the way Angel was written. The entire cast does a sublime “Seasons of Love,” the banner song from RENT that still reminisces today, although it was surprising to hear that a couple members of the chorus belt out solo sections better than almost any of the leads.
One big complaint: The show misses the mark by casting no African Americans in any of the leading roles.
The set design, featuring three tiers of awnings with partial song lyrics written in graffiti on wall behind, does its job by not being flashy. But it feels lackluster at best. And at the beginning of the show, no curtain is used. The actors wander the stage. Some are seen stretching. One guy floated across the stage on a skateboard. It made the beginning of the show — when one actor spray paints “No Day But Today” on the wall before the music started— a bit of a chaotic mess.
RENT plays at the 5th Avenue Theatre through Aug. 19. For more information, visit http://www.5thavenue.org.