The 5th Avenue Theatre closes up its season with the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner “RENT,” playing through August 19th. The late Jonathan Larson’s marvelous score filled every wavelength of space in the beautiful downtown theatre: “Seasons of Love,” “Without You,” “Today 4 U,” “Light My Candle,” among many others. Director Bill Berry’s cast is full of blood and vinegar.
Martin Christoffel’s set is an urban jungle underneath an underpass, graffitied with lyrics and lines from the show. The layered scaffolding is crawling with the colorful and talented ensemble, who are equal parts props, set, and mob choir. A couple ensemble stand-outs: Eric Ankrim (who is also an associate director for the show) has a gripping solo in “Will I?” and Sarah Rose Davis’s frequent voicemails as Mark’s mother are hilarious. You actually look forward to her return (those glasses!). “La Vie Boheme” is electric.
However, if you have to boil it down to one reason to buy a ticket, here it is. They call her, they call her Mimi. Actress Naomi Morgan is a knock out. She’s angry, she’s tenacious, and she’s tiny and lithe. The fire in her eyes hits the back wall. She attacks songs rather than just sings them, and wins. When she speaks and moves, you get the feeling that if she were to ever let out what was inside, there wouldn’t be signs big enough or lights bright enough. Her romantic yo-yoing with Aaron C. Finley as “Roger” (who is also wonderful, especially during his gripping “One Song Glory”) threatens to overshadow the other relationships at play. It’s strange to feel relief when both pull out their AZT, yet their chemistry is so visceral, you can’t help but guiltily rejoice.
You pretty much instantly fall in love with Jerick Hoffer as “Angel.” He is the shining light of the stage, filled with irrepressible optimism and fun. He returns to the Balagan Theatre early next year in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” as the starring role, which will undoubtedly be a blast.
Frankly, this reporter would take Ryah Nixon (“Maureen”) as she is any day of the week.
The director makes the case that “RENT” is just as relevant today as it was in the early and mid 90’s when the Tony and Pulitzer winning blockbuster first came to light. But does it actually matter? Do audiences still flock to “Hair” because of its relevancy?
“RENT” encapsulates a time when AIDS was still a frighteningly unknown disease, when people wouldn’t even shake hands with someone infected. In today’s world, while there is still stigma, contracting AIDS isn’t the death sentence it once was and it certainly is no longer commonly called the “gay disease.” But to worry about its relevance is like saying modern audiences can’t get something out of “The Help” if they didn’t have a “colored only” entrance. Relevancy is irrelevant. There is poignancy to watching a group of artist friends trying to live in the moment and realizing that these are teenagers, and many of them will most likely die a very ugly death. “No Day But Today” isn’t a trendy Hot Topic t-shirt to these kids. If The 5th Avenue’s production doesn’t move you because AIDS is soooo last decade, well, maybe you should stick to tumblr for entertainment.
“RENT” plays July 21 – August 19, 2012 at The 5th Avenue Theatre (1308 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98101). Tickets (starting at $29.00) may be purchased at www.5thavenue.org, by phone at 206-625-1900, or at the Box Office at 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle.