By Andrea Warner
To Aug. 30 at Presentation House Theatre, 8 pm (Tues-Sat). Sundays, 7 pm. Matinees: Sat, 2 pm; Sun, 1:30 pm. Tickets $25-$30 from PHTheatre.org or 604-990-3474
It’s every urban snob’s belief that New York City is 20 years ahead of most North American metropolises, but never has that felt more true than in Fighting Chance Productions’ invigorating and lively staging of this Tony Award-winning Broadway rock musical.
Based on La Puccinni’s La Boheme, Rent was Jonathan Larson’s ode to the disenfranchised artists who populated New York’s late ’80s- and early ’90s-era Lower East Side. Tackling AIDS, homosexuality, poverty, drugs, art, and friendship, Rent, when it debuted in 1995, would go on to define the impassioned idealism and messy reality of minorities, from all walks of life, rising up against the systematic ruling class.
Rent opens on Christmas eve, with Roger (Craig DeCarlo), a recovering addict and musician, and Mark (Anton Lipovetsky), a nerdy filmmaker, living in a rundown apartment owned by their former friend, Benny (Kholby Wardell), who’s become a money-grubbing sellout after marrying rich. Collins (Nick Fontaine), an old friend, returns to town after being fired by MIT, and meets Angel (Cesar Erba), a cross-dressing busker. Mark’s ex-girlfriend, Maureen (Jacqueline Breakwell), a performance artist, has left him for Joanne (a powerful Jenn Suratos), a lawyer, and is protesting Benny’s plans to build a cyber arts centre on a vacant lot that’s become home to a tent city for homeless people. When Roger meets next-door neighbour Mimi (Christine Quintana), an exotic dancer and addict, sparks fly, and the whole group forms a little family — albeit a fragile one — that must face AIDS, jealousy, drug addiction, and eviction.
Long-time Rent fans (known as “Rent-heads”) used to a multi-racial production will require a few minutes of adjustment when faced with the mostly Caucasian cast, and the choreography often comes off as unnatural rather than fluid. Any concerns are soon cast aside by the group’s vocals, so impressive they practically shake the walls right off the tiny Presentation House Theatre. Some technical issues mar the sound quality, but the actors imbue every lyric with enough intensity and passion to make even diehards rediscover new meaning in old favourites (particularly in the titular opening number).
With a global economic recession, the Olympics just six months away, and many Vancouverites entrenched in their own quandary of how to pay the damn rent, this joyous production could not be more timely.