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REVIEW: ‘Rent’ returns

Rent1081111_optNew revival of a beloved musical more or less recalls the original production

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW

Ever since that very first critics’ preview of “Rent” at New York Theatre Workshop in early February, 1996 – an emotional experience on so many levels – I have been a fan of Jonathan Larson’s musical.

Now, just short of three years since “Rent” closed on Broadway after 5,124 performances, a new production arrived at New World Stages on Thursday.

And something is not right about it.

The musical itself remains as every Rent-Head knows and loves it. Larson’s variegated, beautifully melodic, pulsating score is unchanged while the text for his colorful East Village circa 1990 reinvention of the “La Boheme” storyline has not been updated.

Rent2081111_optYet the musical’s original director, Michael Greif, stages the off Broadway revival in a curious mix of mostly old and some dubious new concepts.

With two significant exceptions, the actors who populate this production duplicate the original cast-members in terms of body type and ethnicity. Dressed in not altogether convincing motley clothes of the early ‘90s, the performances also tend to replicate the original interpretations.

So often a museum-like quality strangely pervades the show.

One positive exception to the waxworks impression is Annaleigh Ashford, whose blonde looks and flirtatious ways make for quite a different Maureen than the ferocious soul forged by the brunette Idina Menzel. Instead of Menzel’s fiery portrayal, Ashford’s version registers more as a none-too-talented poseur than as a seriously-minded performance artist. “Over the Moon” is performed for laughs here.



 

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