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Theatre review - Off-Broadway edition: Rent 
26th-Jul-2011 09:50 am
Much as I knew I'd end up on a busman's holiday and seeing shows in New York, I'd always figured this wouldn't include Monday night, when most Broadway shows take their day off. But the best laid plans etc, and heavy rain meant sightseeing didn't appeal much any more so I went to the TKTS booth to pick from the limited shows on offer. It means I got my first off-Broadway trip (although geographically the on/off Broadway distinction means about as much as the West End/off West End one - New World Stages is almost exactly as far from Broadway itself as the Al Herschfeld.) Resisting the temptation of a 12th visit to Avenue Q I went instead to the show next door. And since the only time I've seen it before was the notorious Remixed version, I thought I should give another chance to Jonathan Larson's Rent, which is revived by original director Michael Greif. This review is of a preview performance (I guess they like their long preview periods here, a month for an off-Broadway revival! No wonder Spider-Man thought it could keep rejigging to infinity.)

Unsurprisingly this is a more straightforward, less batshit insane production than the last one I saw. Adam Chanler-Berat fulfils the most important criterion for playing Mark, namely not being Oliver Thornton, and he looks a bit like a less attractive Darren Criss. My favourite performance by far was the very likeable Nicholas Christopher as Tom Collins, the first time I've felt as if I "got" that character. His and Angel's (MJ Rodriguez) relationship feels real despite its suddenness, unlike the Roger/Mimi one (Matthew Shingledecker and Arianda Fernandez) which I continue to find hard to care about. Annaleigh Ashford's Maureen is an interestingly ditzy take on the character, her pretentious attempt at performance art here played strictly for laughs. Accordingly (and wisely) she doesn't try to emulate Idina Menzel in the show's best song "Take Me or Leave Me," but gives her own spin on it. This song is also Corbin Reid's best moment, her Joanne being rather bland otherwise.

Mark Wendland's set is a bit busy and clunky for this size of venue, and it seems sound balance in rocky musicals has the same problems in New York as in London, but overall this was enjoyable. I still think Rent is a bit overlong, overwrought and over-earnest for me to really love but it does contains some great showstoppers like the aforementioned "Take Me or Leave Me" and "What You Own" that make it worth seeing.

Rent by Jonathan Larson is booking until the 20th of November at New World Stages 1, New York.
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