‘Rent’ ends tour in Sacramento
"Rent: The Broadway Tour" stopped in Sacramento Wednesday night, bringing a slice of New York to the Community Center Theatre. An audience of over 2,000 sang along, hollered and gave a standing ovation to the play, which featured the male leads from the original Broadway cast, Adam Pascal (as Roger Davis) and Anthony Rapp (as Mark Cohen).
Led by poignant performances by Pascal and Rapp, the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama featured powerful acting, dancing and singing. Watching the play was like viewing a prototypical hip-hop song come to life, describing characters in an urban New York City neighborhood dealing with a mosaic of issues including AIDS, drugs and homelessness.
The performance began with Pascal’s character walking onstage with a white Fender Telecaster, eliciting a chorus of girls screaming in the audience. Rapp, holding a video camera, entered next, receiving a similar response.
In the background, a complicated set of intertwined clothing, paper lanterns and bicycle frames wrapped around several black staircases to give the stage an authentically New York feel. Gray brick graffitied with a skyline, streetlights and silhouettes allowed the stage to remain minimalist.
Clustering in one corner to the side of the stage, a live four-piece band consisting of drums, guitar, keyboards and bass provided the entire soundtrack. However, the play opened with Pascal’s character Roger, a struggling musician, strumming his Telecaster. He began several of the play’s songs on guitar, later being accompanied by the band.
A diverse cast portrayed a group of friends, with characters ranging from struggling artists to drug addicts and drag queens. Crowd favorite Justin Johnson played a drag queen named Angel, whose nearly every movement drew cheers from the audience.
Comic relief came in the form of Nicolette Hart, who played Maureen, a clownish bisexual performance artist who dressed in everything from a brightly colored farmer’s outfit to a vinyl Catwoman one-piece. She performed a "performance art" send-up called "Over the Moon," which conjured Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky, while using props like a cowbell, a drum stick and sunglasses to add wackiness.
Quick skits depicting 30-second voicemails left to the characters also provided intervals of comic relief and acted as distractions for the actors to shift props on the stage. Imminent eviction, several love stories and a love triangle drive the plot, though it’s really an amalgam of many characters’ experiences in New York throughout one year.
Though the film version opens with it, the musical’s signature song "Seasons of Love" came later in the stage version, the first song in the second act. Gwen Stewart, another original cast member and soloist on the song, added a soulful falsetto verse and a touch of beautiful gospel.
Elements of the song reappeared during the act as drama unfolds, death, eviction and sickness wrenching apart the characters’ lives. After the last song, the audience erupted in applause and other audible praises, over 2,000 people on their feet to show their appreciation.
It was a fitting end to the show, one of the best this reviewer has ever seen in Sacramento. Audiences seemed to agree, with many leaving the Community Center Theatre with "Rent" backpacks, purses and sweaters.
Sunday night will mark the end of the tour.
"Rent" runs through Sunday at 2 and 8 p.m. A limited number of tickets are still available at the Community Center Theater, 1301 L St. Front row seats are available two hours before each performance at the Community Center Theater box office at a cost of $23, cash only, two per person.
Photographs credit "Rent: Broadway Tour 2009"