Broadway play makes it to Tallahassee theatre

The Tallahassee Broadway Series opened its 2001-2002 season with “Rent,” a rock musical by Jonathan Larson.

The musical is based an 1830s Italian opera, “La Vie Boheme.”

The play chronicles a year in the life of eight individuals united by love, AIDS and the fight against conformity.

The story opens in the New York apartment of roommates Mark and Roger, a struggling filmmaker and songwriter, respectively.

Within moments of the opening lyrical dialogue, the audience learns there are also three former roommates in Roger and Mark’s lives.

The first former roommate Benny is a paper chaser who married rich and forgot about his starving artist friends.

Then there’s Tom, an unemployed professor crusading against virtual reality; and Maureen, Mark’s ex-girlfriend who left him for another woman.

Angel, a drum-playing drag queen and Mimi, a junkie/exotic dancer, add romantic interest to the lives of the male roommates through less than six degrees of separation.

Act One begins on Christmas Eve as Maureen crusades against Benny’s plot to raze their performance space, Alphabet City, and build a cyber arts studio.

The fervent staccato rhythm of “La Vie Boheme/ I Should Tell You,” manages to capture the spirit of the artists, their complex relationships, and the issue of AIDS awareness in a single number.

Act Two opens on New Year’s Eve, and is punctuated by holidays and turning points in each character’s life.

From Valentine’s Day to Halloween, secrets are revealed, love is lost, and a death pulls them apart.

The act closes on Christmas Eve of the following year, when the threat of a death pulls the group together again.

Although “Rent” has had a run of over four years on Broadway and won both a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize, its success is bittersweet.

After watching the final dress rehearsal of what was supposed to have been only an experimental, off-Broadway production, Larson, the show’s creator, died unexpectedly of an aortic aneurysm.

Larson’s final complete work was well received by members of the Big Bend community on Monday evening.

Valeria Moore, 29, who had seen the Broadway production, said that the traveling production had “the same quality of the original,” and identified with the message of “finding one’s place in society”.

The actors of Monday night’s production gave a thorough performance, although there were a few glitches.

Several lines were lost due to lack of sound quality, and at times the acting lacked genuine emotion and seemed a bit contrived and overly rehearsed.

The ingenious use of basic props, lighting, and direction helped transform the single set into a number of locales with simultaneous scenes of action, which both intrigued and distracted members of the audience.

“I really liked it, but sometimes there was just too much going on and I couldn’t really hear what some of the actors were saying,” Daleah Goodwin, 20, a junior history student from Indianapolis, Ind., said.

The production covers ‘525,600 minutes’- a tumultuous year in the lives of the eight bohemians – in about two and a half hours.

“Rent” is a show that skewers universal themes, including the trials of love, reality, relationships, living with disease and finding one’s place in society through a musical medium.

In describing the play’s overall message a few days before he died, Larson may have said it best: “It’s not how many years you live, but how you fulfill the time you live here. That’s sort of the point of the show.”