The backdrop of New York City welcomed guests to the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center, setting the scene for the “RENT: 20th Anniversary Tour” on Nov. 20.
“RENT,” which first came to the stage in 1996, is based on Puccini’s “La Bohème” and is now celebrating its 20th anniversary tour around North America. The plot focuses on young artists living in New York as their art takes place in various different forms. They all struggle in some way, but come together to form a family.
In the first act set on Christmas Eve, Mark Cohen (Cody Jenkins), one of the main characters and a videographer, introduced the audience to his life with rocker roommate, Roger Davis (Coleman Cummings).
The two are preparing for a protest led by Mark’s ex-girlfriend, who happens to be dating a woman now. The roommates are joined by the rest of the cast for a song called “Rent.”
The setting of the musical fit perfect for the plot — it takes place in an old music production studio.
What was unique for this setup was that the orchestra was on the stage with the actors, underneath a balcony. It added a sense of togetherness and made the musical somehow feel even more artistic.
The rest of the act follows Roger’s struggle to write the perfect song and cope with his former girlfriend’s death after she committed suicide and left him a note saying they both had HIV.
Meanwhile, Roger and Marc’s former roommate Tom Collins (Shafiq Hicks), a New York University professor, meets a cross-dressing drummer named Angel (Joshua Tavares) on the street and falls head over heels for him, and they both discover they have HIV as well.
“RENT” covers a variety of what could be considered for the time it was written taboo topics, such as same-sex relationships, HIV, AIDS, cross-dressing and drag.
However, the musical tackles these topics musically, showing how these topics should be discussed and how important they are.
In many ways, the 20th anniversary tour could not have been more diverse. Samantha Mbolekwa, who played Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen’s (Kelsee Sweigard) girlfriend was one of the cast members who was a powerhouse voice throughout the musical.
Her performance of “We’re Okay” had Mbolekwa juggling two phones yet delivering a frantic yet wonderful performance.
Another cast member who delivered a powerhouse performance was Joshua Tavares, who played Angel.
He performed in high heels and leaped from table to floors, tables to tables, and moved around with such a glamorous essence without missing a beat or note.
Act 2 follows the artists as they experience big changes as the seasons go by. They started out the act with “Seasons of Love,” where Rayla Garske, who played multiple characters, sang her heart out at the end of the number.
Act 2 was filled with many powerful performances, including the “Your Eyes/Finale” that brought a few of the audience members to tears. It was performed by Roger to Mimi as she is almost near death from a drug overdose.
The song comprised other songs from the musical, like “I Should Tell You,” and showed how powerful the couple’s love was.
“RENT: The 20th Anniversary Tour” revived the musical and performs it in front of a new audience. It will continue to tell the story of change and how some of the best art can come from places of desperation, struggle and sadness.