After Rent's Nov. 18 opening in Boston, it was announced that the Broadway hit, often referred to as the most innovative and influential musical since A Chorus Line, has extended its road-company debut through April 27, 1997. Huge advance sales (over $4 million, even before the show opened) prompted the Boston extension, and according to spokesperson Don Summa, who did not have box office figures, "numbers have been extremely high, including some house records."
Jonathan Larson's piece, a modern version of "La Boheme" about young people in New York's trendy East Village coping with AIDS, sexuality, money trouble, drugs and fear of `selling out,' nabbed both the 1996 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Musical. But now that the show has opened in Boston, with La Jolla, CA, getting set for July 1997, and a Toronto opening also announced for 1997, Rent must prove itself outside its cushy Manhattan home. The Boston company is hoping to extend past April, and it will not be the troupe doing the show in La Jolla. Casting dates for the California production have not yet been announced.
Many worried that New York's Rent would not have the same impact in subsequent productions, because the of the extended rehearsal process that most original cast members endured. Together they journeyed through the show's evolution-- from workshop to workshop, to success off-Broadway and then Broadway, and through the death of creator/composer Jonathan Larson. According to the actors, the experience has created a real and familial bond that transfers favorably on stage.
Nevertheless, the hype for Rent is so huge, that Boston's opening night audience gave the cast members a standing ovation before the show began. However, as Boston Globe reviewer Ed Siegel points out, "The ovation did appear to be somewhat accidental. Some members of the audience stood up for the New York cast who came in just as the show was beginning. The New Yorkers, in a very classy way, redirected the applause to the cast members who had just come out on stage. It turned out to be appropriate because the Boston version is quite comparable to New York's..."
Siegel goes on to say that the Boston production is "in one important regard infinitely better: The acoustics of the restored Shubert Theatre are to New York's Nederlander Theatre what Symphony Hall's acoustics were to the late Boston Garden. (The one black eye for the Shubert's reopening were pickets protesting the theater management's lack of recognition for the union representing theatrical press agents and managers.)" [Please see Playbill On-Line's story about ATPAM] So what about the Boston cast, which includes Carol Burnett's daughter, Carrie Hamilton (of TV's "Fame"), Cristina Ablaza, Stephan Alexander, Christian Anderson, C.C. Brown, Luther Creek, D'Monroe, Julie P. Danao, Ray Garcia, Sean Keller, Sylvia MacCalla, Lambert Moss, John Eric Parker, James Rich, Daniel J. Robbins, Simone [sic] (Nina Simone's daughter), Amy Spanger, Schele Williams, and Queen Esther?
Siegel did praise Simone as "Mimi," C.C. Brown ("Collins") and Stephan Alexander ("Angel"). He singled out Carrie Hamilton's portrayal of Maureen, a role associated with NY's Idina Menzel, as the cast's weakest link.
Terry Byrne, critic of the Boston Herald, agreed that CC. Brown and Stephan Alexander "have real chemistry together," but inversely felt that Carrie Hamilton's performance artist "is a scream." Seigel raved about Rent's ability to mix the jolt of a rock and roll downbeat with the toe-tapping hummability of musical theatre, saying,"both versions capture so well ... the spirit of rock music." He ended his review by hoping that Rent "would provide "the kind of rejuvenating jolt" that would give musical theatre "a goose" it's needed for 25 years.
What Siegel adamantly did not agree with was Rent's premise. "The biggest flaw with Rent," he writes, "is the emptiness of its bohemianism. It wants us to recognize gay people as normal, which is all to the good, but so does prime-time television. It wants us to have compassion for people with AIDS, which we should, but so did the Republican Convention. When nothing is shocking anymore what is there to be bohemian about? The freedom to wear tight pants? In terms of content, Rent is little more than a fashion statement. One leaves the theater humming the clothes along with the tunes."
For Byrne, humming the clothes, and a few of the tunes -- and feeling the show's extraordinary energy -- was more than enough. "Rent is not just a musical," he wrote. "It's a live wire of energy and emotion so electrifying, it will lift you right out of your seat... The first act's rousing production numbers, "Rent" and "La Vie Boheme" -- with its wonderful rhymes -- are topped only by the second act opener, "Seasons Of Love" and the angry rocker, "What You Own."
In fact, Byrne's only critical words about the show were, "All of these characters are so fascinating, it seemed Larson had trouble deciding who should be the center of attention. The result is that the second act becomes a confusing tangle of competing storylines. But the energy of the cast, the bond of love among these friends, and, most of all, the hopefulness of Larson's music, make you forgive the dramatic lapses...Catch the buzz."
Trivia buffs will note two strange coincidences involved with the opening. The Broadway production opened at the Nederlander Theatre (named for one of Broadway's "big three" theatre-owning companies), which had just undergone a renovation. The Boston company opened at the Shubert Theatre (also named for one of the "big three") which also just underwent a renovation.
Playbill On-line will add quotes from other Boston reviews as they come in the next few days.