Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 14, 2019

Review: The Bushnell, Rent

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through Marcy 17, 2019
By Stuart W. Gamble

While exiting the opening night performance of “Rent” at the Bushnell, one could hear amongst the throngs of patrons such enthusiastic responses as: “It was a great show!” and “It was worth coming to see!” The production marks the 20th anniversary tour of this iconic musical drama.

More of a rock opera than a conventional musical, Jonathan Larson’s epic late 20th century story is a reworking of Puccini’s opera “La Boheme”. Set among the New York artistic communities of Alphabet City and East Greenwich Village, “Rent” comprises the inter-twining travails of several artistic denizens: there’s filmmaker Mark and his guitarist/songwriter roommate Roger, their upstairs neighbor and exotic dancer Mimi, Roger’s ex-girlfriend and performance artist Maureen and her girlfriend Joanne, Jack of many trades Tom Collins and his beloved drag performer Angel, and their turncoat friend Benjamin Coffin III.

This production is smashingly performed from the namesake opening number performed by the entire company to Roger’s (Joshua Bess) cathartic closing number “Your Eyes,” which he dedicates to the ill Mimi (Deri’Andra Tucker). In between these first and last scenes, the talented cast lets loose with some fabulous songs including Tucker’s spirited “Light My Candle” and “Out Tonight,” Collins’ (DevinrĂ© Adams) and Angel’s (Javon King) loving ballad “I’ll Cover You,” Mark (Logan Marks) and Joanne’s (Lencia Kebede) comical “Tango: Maureen,” Maureen’s (Lyndie Moe) satiric poem slam “Over the Moon” and the company’s rousing Act I curtain closer “La Vie Boheme”. Only the show’s well-known Act II ensemble number “Seasons of Love” seems to lack the vibrancy of the show’s other numbers. Perhaps this was due to the number’s over-familiarity and chorus line style presentation.

Paul Clay’s metallic, bare-bones set imaginatively creates many spaces including a garret apartment, a hospital room, an AIDS support group meeting-place, and street landscapes. The striped tights, mini-skirts, baggy jeans and shirts, vests and denim jackets all owe their mid-1990’s look to Angela Wendt’s inventive and extremely colorful costume designs. Matthew DeMaria’s spot-on musical direction is well-matched with Keith Caggiano’s sound design and Jonathan Spencer’s mood-enhancing lighting design.

Much has changed since “Rent’s” revolutionary debut in 1996: the frightening specter of AIDS and HIV have been somewhat diminished by more effective medicine; the internet which has allowed artists to market their work worldwide; and the gentrification of many New York areas which have changed the face of our world. Unlike Coffin’s (Marcus John) statement that the Bohemian life is Dead, the music and lyrics of Larson’s “Rent” prove quite the contrary.