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Michael Greif's solid revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical does not try for any bold reinterpretations. logo
Annaleigh Ashford, Corbin Reid, Matt Shingledecker,
and Arianda Fernandez in Rent
(© Joan Marcus)
Fans of Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, Rent, will find plenty to enjoy in the show's solid Off-Broadway revival, at New World Stages. Directed by the musical's original helmer, Michael Greif, the production does not try for any bold reinterpretations, although it does occasionally provide a few variations.

Set in the early 1990s, the musical is inspired by Puccini's La Boheme, and chronicles a year in the life of a group of friends living in the East Village during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Larson's pop-rock score continues to delight, and is mostly sung well by the ensemble cast.

Adam Chanler-Berat plays filmmaker Mark, and his vocal sound and phrasing is very reminiscent of Anthony Rapp, who originated the role. However, Chanler-Berat also brings to the part an understated sweetness and vulnerability, which works well -- particularly given the more intimate size of the house at New World Stages.

As Mark's roommate Roger, Matt Shingledecker tends to sing in a breathy style that is occasionally effective, but far overused. He does make a favorable impression in the "Light My Candle" duet with Arianda Fernandez, as his drug addicted love interest Mimi. The number believably establishes their characters' mutual attraction, although both performers tend to play up the melodramatic elements of the script to not-so-good effect.

Similarly, the relationship between sometime academic Tom Collins (Nicholas Christopher) and drum-playing drag queen Angel (MJ Rodriguez) is rendered sweetly, but neither actor brings much dimension to his role.

The most combustible couple in the production by far is Annaleigh Ashford as Maureen and Corbin Reid as Joanne. Their rendition of "Take Me or Leave Me" burns up the stage, and perfectly captures their love/hate dynamic. Interestingly, Reid also generates sparks in her interactions with Chanler-Berat's Mark, particularly given the final pose they strike at the end of "Tango Maureen."

Their work in that song features a fun ballroom dancing sequence from choreographer Larry Keigwin, who also gives Rodriguez a chance to shine in Angel's big number, "Today 4 U." The staging of Mimi's movement in "Out Tonight," however, seems like a missed opportunity to do something to set it apart from the way that number was originally performed. Fernandez also doesn't quite hit all of the right notes in this song, which makes it even more disappointing.

On the other hand, a clear highlight of the production is Maureen's performance art piece, "Over the Moon," which Ashford infuses with the right mixture of sincerity and over-the-top pretentiousness. The sequence gets an added visual pop from projection designer Peter Nigrini, who provides some campy visuals to go along with Maureen's protest monologue against the planned real estate redevelopment initiated by Benny (Ephraim Sykes).

It's Nigrini's overall work in the production that sets this revival apart from the original staging, particularly in the way the projections are used to show the images that Mark shoots with his video camera. We're shown the tent city he sees outside his apartment window, the church steeple at the end of a funeral that occurs in the second act, and sometimes just random images of the city, which is as much a character in Rent as the people who inhabit it.

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