“Rent” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ August 26, 2013


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix Theatre opens its 93rd season with Jonathan Larson’s 1996 once iconic musical “Rent.”  The now 17-year-old show is at an awkward age – not old enough to give us a vibrant historical glimpse into a distant time because we all remember this hippie-inspired period.  “Rent’s” now just old enough that it looks, sounds, and feels terribly dated.

And the PT production never becomes the throbbing, pounding, beat-driven look at those days of protests by the young of everything then considered part of a classic lifestyle.  Drugs provided a new sensitivity to view life while rock music found its way into the otherwise sedate Broadway scene.  There were sharp distinctions between liberal political views and established dictates that never ring true here.

“Rent’s” pluses remain Larson’s great rock score filled with hit after hit, and the story, based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” that was effectively transferred to the era of protests, AIDS, open love, and gays.

Many in the PT cast lack the dynamic energy that typified that generation.  The show’s biggest disappointment is Marisha Castle’s Mimi.  Her famous first act sexy dance, “Out Tonight,” falls flatter than a soggy pancake as does her entire lackluster interpretation.  Further destroying her Mimi, Castle doesn’t look, act, or sound like a young rebellious rocker.

The other major distraction is Jeffrey Wei’s less than over-the-top Angel, a transvestite who must enrapture the audience but you never care about this sadly sick character in Wei’s unsuccessful interpretation.

Jenny Hintze steals the show as Maureen and her “Over the Moon” stops the show cold.  If the entire cast and Robert Kolby Harper’s flat and listless staging had stimulated the rest of the large cast to mirror Hintze’s Maureen, this “Rent” could have soared.  Mark, the show’s narrator and guide is OK in Lucas Coatney’s acceptable but far from dynamic performance.  Preston Ellis’ Roger sings well enough as he gives the tunes the soulful wail they demand but he and Castle’s Mimi should be on fire with passion and never are.

Cari Sue Smith’s costumes don’t always give the characters the right look, while Reynaldo Saenz’s orchestra lacks the driving energy necessary to make Larson’s music slam the audience.

Maybe the smartest thing would be to put “Rent” back on a shelf until it is much older when a truly memorable production could give it the throbbing life it needs to provide audiences with a vibrant look at a historic period and what made it special.

Phoenix Theatre’s lackluster “Rent” doesn’t do that so it clashes with what we remember as a much more dynamic time.  “Rent” continues through September 15.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: D