By LYDIA FENNESSY
Erie’s own Warner Theatre was host to the cast of the 20th anniversary tour of RENT on Wednesday.
I had high hopes for the production, and boy did the cast deliver.
I must admit that I had never seen a production of RENT before that night, live or otherwise, but I knew many of the songs and was looking forward to seeing how they tied into the storyline.
For those who have never seen RENT, the musical focuses on the lives of seven artists in the East Village of New York City trying to make their way in the world.
The show tackles tough issues such as poverty, homelessness and the HIV epidemic sweeping through the community.
The musical, which premiered in 1996, is loosely based on “La Bohème,” an opera by Giacoma Puccini that centers around several similar themes.
The 20th anniversary show began suddenly when the characters entered the stage and set the background for the story.
The lights hadn’t even gone down yet, which I found to be quite unusual.
It’s Christmas Eve at the start of the show and roommates Mark and Roger are sitting in their apartment listening to the messages on their answering machine.
One message is from Benny, a former roommate and friend, who has recently purchased the building they live in and plans to build an arts studio on the property.
To do this, he plans to evict all the tenants from the building and clear out the lot next door, which serves as a place for the homeless to spend their nights.
Maureen, who is Mark’s ex-girlfriend, is planning a demonstration show for
midnight to protest Benny’s plans. The show continues throughout the following year, which takes the cast on a wild ride.
Throughout the show, several other characters are introduced, including Maureen’s new girlfriend, Joanne; another ex-roommate of the pair, Collins; his drag-queen partner, Angel; and Mimi, Roger’s love interest.
The set does not change during the show, but the setup is such that each scene fits perfectly with the backdrop.
Subtle changes in lighting and placement of furniture make the audience feel like the characters have moved to a different setting, without having to wait for complex set changes.
The costuming was simple and appropriate for the ‘90s, during which the musical is set.
While these touches were nice, the best part of the musical was without a doubt the cast. Each cast member captured the essence of his or her character perfectly.
My favorite character was Angel Schunard, portrayed by actor David Marino, whose sass and joy for life had the audience captivated from the moment he stepped on stage.
Marino has a killer voice that made numbers like “I’ll Cover You” even more powerful.
I think the musical does an excellent job of balancing the insanely heavy topic of the HIV and AIDS epidemic with light-hearted moments, such as Maureen’s (Katie Lamarck) demonstration.
The show also features a number of iconic musical numbers like “Seasons of Love” and “Take Me or Leave Me” that pull at the audiences’ heartstrings.
Overall, I think the cast delivers an amazing show that leaves the audience wishing the show would never end.
Although the tour was only in Erie for one night, I highly recommend catching this cast at another stop if you get the chance. You will not be disappointed.