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‘Rent’ 2 lead actors reprise Broadway roles

CHARLOTTE ó After seeing the opening night of “Rent” at Ovens Auditorium in Charlotte, I admit to some mixed feelings.
I didn’t know much about the musical, other than it had been a Broadway smash hit and critical success. I found out from a colleague that it’s loosely based on “La Boheme.”
But I was unprepared to witness the gritty lives of the characters, who live in New York’s East Village.
Every day is a struggle creatively for these young artists, but a struggle to meet their physical needs as well.
Most of them are HIV-positive or have AIDS, which was running rampant in this area during the 1990s, when the play is set.
Just like the shadows the actors cast on the set, the spectre of AIDS casts a long shadow over this story.
All of the characters seem to be taking AZT to combat their symptoms ó the medication reminders they wear beat simultaneously. They’re all poor. Yet they’re all fighters ó in one way or another.
It was a treat to see the two actors who originated the roles of the two main characters. Adam Pascal plays Roger Davis, an HIV-musician whose girlfriend slit her wrists after she learned she was infected with the disease. Anthony Rapp plays Mark Cohen, a young filmmaker who hides behind his camera instead of becoming engaged in life.
Michael McElroy is Tom Collins, an anarchist professor who becomes infatuated with Angel, a flamboyant drag queen played by Justin Johnston.
Nicolette Hart plays Maureen, a bisexual performance artist who’s involved with Joanne, an African-American legal aid attorney. Maureen was once involved with Mark.
The two women bicker constantly, which is a hallmark for some couples no matter what their sexual orientation. As in real life, it’s annoying.
Mimi, a resident of the warehouse where Roger and Mark live ó without heat most of the time ó befriends Roger.
She’s played by Lexi Lawson.
But she vacillates between him and the landlord, Benny, played by Jacques C. Smith.
Yeah, it’s a bit confusing at first and out there and in your face.
And that’s probably a lot of the play’s appeal for many theatre-goers. But at its heart, it’s a musical, and the music is tremendous.
I definitely liked the music best.
My friend, Pebbles ó yeah, that’s her real name ó has seen the production three times now. She said I’d like the music better than “Wicked.” Being as how the “Wicked” CD has been on my CD Walkman ó and now my iPod ó since April, I have to say it wasn’t the case.
Still, I think the songs will grow on me, and they’ll eventually find a place on my playlist.
Perhaps the best-known song from “Rent” is “Seasons of Love,” in which the characters talk about “525,600 minutes” ó the amount of time in a year.
“Santa Fe,” “I’ll Cover You” and “Your Eyes” are also standout songs.
It’s the beauty of these and other songs that lift the musical out of its grungy setting into something more, something better.
“Tango: Maureen” is a fun piece. There’s also a song running throughout on voice mails for Roger and Mark because they screen their calls. It’s clever and effective.
“Rent” is a show for adult audiences. It contains some pretty coarse language and obviously, adult situations.
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One venue complaint: I don’t know if it’s always like this in the upper reaches of Ovens, but it was positively stifling in our seats.
We did move farther down into the middle part of the balcony at intermission, where the temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler. If you’ve got seats in the upper balcony, just be prepared and dress accordingly in case you’re not able to switch seats.
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“Rent” continues through Sunday at Ovens Auditorium. For show times or to order tickets, call 704-372-1000 or visit www.blumenthalcenter.org.

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