On Tuesday, I saw the musical Rent on stage for the seventh time. If you include the mediocre movie, its the ninth time I’ve seen Rent.
This time however was a wonderful new experience for me. This production of Rent had a completely new director, a new set design, a new costume design, a new lighting design, and a new sound design. E.g. They remounted the show starting from the book, libretto, and score.
It was really refreshing to see the different choices that were made:
- Costumes: I thought they felt more historically accurate. The original staging of Rent feels more early-90s instead of mid-80s where the show historically fits best for many reasons. (Many reasons, that I don’t recall at the moment, but I remember reading in Sarah Schulman’s book Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America that there are elements from the mid-80s in the story.) I also appreciated the bright costume my friend Jimmie D. Herrod Jr. was in, it made him much easier to pick out on stage.
- Angel: Jerick Hoffer’s Angel is angrier and less soft than Wilson Jermaine Heredia’s original Angel. This really shocked me at first, but feels so much more honest and less stereotypical than just Heredia’s, Gleefully happy, gay, transvestite.
- Lights: Tom Sturge’s lighting plays a wonderful homage to the original design by displaying Benny’s Hummer as just lights, echoing Maureen’s motorcycle entrance. I felt the lighting didn’t call as much attention to itself as I remember the original lighting doing.
- Stage Design: Martin Christoffel’s stage is gritty, there is graffiti all over the place. The set is primarily composed of scaffolding. It exudes reality, whereas Paul Clay’s original design is more impressionistic and has many more elements that are built for the theatre only.
- Stage Direction: Pulling Angel in as a ghost after she died worked exceptionally well, it was brilliantly painful to watch him interact with Collins during I’ll Cover You. Changing Mimi’s Take Me Out to a preparation at her house, instead of a high energy dance number makes an exceptional amount of logical sense. The fact that she proceeds to ask Roger to go out right after it actually made logical sense!
The decision to kill several darlings of the original staging (or more accurately not copy them) while jarring to me at first works. Maureen’s entrance isn’t on a motorcycle of light and sound, but just is. The visual and audible siren during Roger and Mimi’s kiss during the cafe scene wasn’t there, and it wasn’t needed.
Stripping out the pieces that were signatures of Rent brought me back to the more human elements of the story. It made the show more powerful and real. Director Bill Berry’s Rent hit me much harder emotionally than Rent has hit me in a long time. I teared up not once, but at least three times. It reminded me of my humanity in a powerful and wonderful way. The cast and crew should be commended.