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“Rent” at the Signature Theatre

The cast of RENT at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

David Merino (Angel Dumott Schunard) in RENT at Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Ines Nassara (Joanne Jefferson) in RENT at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

November 10, 2021

By: Jordan Wright

A quick synopsis: Rent is a rock opera set in the East Village of New York City during the Christmas holidays. It premiered Off-Broadway in 1996 and is an homage to Puccini’s opera, La Bohème. it was Johnathan Larson’s game-changing contribution to musicals and opened the door for later rock-based musicals.

Signature’s first-of-the-season production Rent exploded on stage like a white-hot cannonball.  Having seen it more times than I should, I was not only stunned by its reinvention but thrilled beyond measure to witness a fresh approach imagined by Sig’s now permanent Artistic Director, Matthew Gardiner.  As the recipient of three Helen Hayes Awards for “Outstanding Director of a Musical”, Gardiner has shepherded many of Sig’s biggest hits including over a half dozen from their ongoing Sondheim series.  Another important announcement on opening night from Managing Director, Maggie Boland, we Sig fans should cheer, is Mark G. Meadows as permanent Musical Director. Both men collaborated on this production of Rent alongside Choreographer Rickey Tripp, better known for his Tony Award successes on Broadway like Hamilton, Motown: The Musical and the Tony Award Winning In the Heights (Original Cast). Tripp brings all that dazzling choreographic talent to this musical.

What makes this production so over the top is a gasp-worthy assemblage of Broadway-caliber singers and dancers. Tripp packs up to 16 performers on a stage that utilizes three separate aisles which take the actors up the aisles, plus two elevated balconies. This clever staging raises the excitement level full bore.

With voices to knock your socks off: Vincent Kempski as Roger; Katie Mariko Murray as performance artist and activist, Maureen; Josh A. Dawson as Tom Collins fresh off Beautiful: The Carol King Musical; Jake Loewenthal as Mark; Ines Nassara as the tough-talking Joanne; David Merino as the sassy transvestite Angel; Da’Von T. Moody as Ben, friend and sponsor of the bohemian coterie; and Arianna Rosario as the dying Mimi. I never thought of Rent as having a great deal of comic relief, but Murray seizes the audience in a laugh-lock in “Over the Moon”.  Let’s just say there’s a cowbell and cow-print skirt. Enough said.

Two out of six musicians sit beside the stage, and we can see one of the keyboardists, who also conducts, on one side of the stage and a guitarist/keyboardist opposite.  It’s an inventive construct that affords us the intimacy of a small concert venue, yet one with a powerful sound plus organized chaos.

This Rent holds you in its crazy embrace and does not let go. Get your tickets, stat!!!

Book, Music & Lyrics by Jonathan Larson; Choreographed by Rickey Tripp; Scenic Design by Paige Hathaway; Costumes by Erik Teague; Lighting Design by Adam Honoré.

Running time approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission.

Through January 2nd at Signature Theatre (in Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information visit www.SigTheatre.org or call the box office at 703-820-9771. 

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