Hi everyone! I am back with another musical review! This time for Rent! I saw this musical for the first time yesterday, although I’ve meant to watch the movie long ago.
I had missed it earlier this year in Chicago and would have missed it in Milwaukee if there hadn’t been a lottery for discounted tickets.
Since I’ve attended performances in the past at Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts I get the promotional emails about upcoming shows and such. For Rent there were tickets available for an online lottery and I entered for the days I thought I could make it, hoping to win one. Something happened on their end and Broadway in Milwaukee sent an email asking everyone to resubmit their entries, which was fine with me as my availability ended up changing.
Finally I received emails that I’d won for two days so I picked Sunday, as that worked best for me, and bought the tickets!
I had entered for two and so my sister came with me. She was already a fan of the musical and so she was excited.
I love going to shows in Milwaukee as it’s an easy city to drive into, cheap parking, and cheaper tickets than Chicago. I’ve paid less for tickets on the orchestra level in Milwaukee than I have for some balcony seats in Chicago. However there’s little to do around the theatre in Milwaukee so I can’t make a day trip out of it. There is also no convenient public transportation to Milwaukee so I have to drive in if I want to go. At the end of the day, both cities have their pros and cons and I’m lucky to be close enough to enjoy them both!
Fun story, before the performance started there was a loud cheer in the far corner of the hall. My sister quickly figured out that the audience over there was watching the Green Bay Packers play which is Wisconsin’s football team. Since I know I have a lot of international readers (who are amazing!) Wisconsin is the state where Milwaukee is located and it’s just north of me. Apparently it was a big game (I don’t follow football so I can’t tell you much more than that) so it was just funny to me that they were watching it before watching Rent. Oh, sports!
So, onto the musical!
The story follows a group of young artist friends living in New York City during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Mark is a filmmaker who lives with Roger, a rock musician, in a run down apartment. Mark and Roger interact with a large social circle including Collins, Angel, Benny, Maureen, Joanne, and Mimi. Nearly everyone in the group is either a member of the LGBT+ community, diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, or both. Together the group has to confront social issues regarding poverty, stigma due to their diagnosis, addictions, deaths, their own mortality, and planning for a future of uncertainty.
Watching a musical with limited knowledge of the story is always a great experience for me. I enjoy discovering a story for the first time in the way it was meant to be presented. So for me, Rent was a new adventure. And it did not disappoint.
In terms of the story, I felt the characters were so alive and believable. Together the cast was fabulous and when they each got a chance to shine they were incredible. I felt that they all worked well with each other and balanced each other perfectly. Angel and Mimi were fantastic dancers in addition to singers and caught the eye while performing.
At the very beginning I remember thinking “wait, this is about actual rent money?” I mentioned that to my sister and she laughed but she knew what I meant. At the very beginning Mark and Roger are being asked to pay rent for their apartment, but the musical also takes the concept of rent to describe life as a whole.
The stage design was so intricate. The musicians get a part of the stage to themselves, under a platform raised up. There’s also scaffolding and structures throughout the stage to give it an unfinished look and graffiti painted on the walls of the set which did a great job setting the scenes.
There were so many significant lighting moments as well. When characters Angel and Maureen appear bright lights back-light them and blind the audience to them as they enter. At the beginning of each act and even for a bit during act 2 the house lights are dimmed but not off entirely. And one thing I immediately noticed was that there were nine lights in a line for each of the nine actors singing in a line for “Seasons of Love”. Later when the characters line up again for another rendition of the song after a character passes away (I don’t want to spoil who!) the spot where the character stood is left empty and the characters on either side of the spot acknowledge the illuminated empty space.
Continuing on that character’s death, we see the funeral and the others come together for it. As one of the friends is speaking, she accidentally uses the wrong pronoun as the character is walking off the stage stoically. The character stops and glances over to the speaker who quickly corrects herself, allowing the character to continue on. I thought that was a lovely moment for that character. During this part the elderly gentleman next to me was crying, and the woman with him gently patted his knee. Behind me a young woman was sobbing. And full disclosure, I was crying too. It was such a moving part.
Overall the musical was amazing and I can see how it has withstood the test of time. I saw the musical as a part of the company’s 20th Anniversary Tour (which they celebrated last year in 2016). I felt like I could really get a sense of the community during the late 80’s/early 90’s when the musical is set and see them deal with their struggles and live with their dreams.
I do intend to watch the film and the stage performance that was filmed if I can find it. I’m hoping the library might have access to it. Otherwise we have the FOX Live to look forward to in 2019. I’m very grateful that Broadway in Milwaukee offered lottery tickets for discounted seats. They have done this in the past (which is how I saw Book of Mormon) and I believe they offer student tickets as well. As someone with a limited monetary budget and unlimited obsession with the arts, I really appreciate that they work to make theatre accessible rather than let the seats go empty.
At the end of the performance the cast got a much deserved standing ovation, which went on for quite awhile. After the applause at last died down, the cast asked for donations toward the hurricane relief fund in Puerto Rico. Every so often casts will do this and I find it incredible that we not only get to support the arts and enjoy a great night, but also get to donate to a great cause and do a little bit to help out.
So let me know if you’ve seen Rent and, if so, what did you think? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Thanks for reading!
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