The first time I saw Jonathan Larson's Tony and Pulitzer Award-winning "Rent," I did not like it. I couldn't understand the lyrics. I found the storyline to be weak and the production to be over the top.
The second time, I at least understood the lyrics and appreciated the music more.
Now Warwick's Ocean State Theatre Company, under the direction of Aimee Turner, has chosen to present the slightly dated '90s musical, this time with a bare bones set, toned down production and a mixture of New York equity and local actors. And it works!
While still not a big fan of the book, I enjoyed the interpretation of the characters and the presentation of the music.
Nile Hawver and Dan McInerney shine as the close friends who live in near poverty in a New York City loft, surrounded by their family of friends who are trying to find meaning in their existence. Hawver is a Rhode Island native who is making a name for himself in New York Chicago and other regional cities. The important role of Mimi is played by Brown graduate Nora Fox, who possesses great stage presence and a beautiful voice.
The thin storyline stretches from one Christmas Eve to the next, highlighting activities during bleak holidays. The landlord shuts off the heat and electricity because they can't pay the rent. Everyone has his or her baggage. There are lesbian lovers, a transvestite, a drug addict and a man dying of AIDS.
Unlike "American Idiot," "Rent" is not profane. While there are sex, drugs and rock and roll, it is all handled discreetly. The opening number of the second act brings down the house, as do a few other show-stoppers, including "Light My Candle" and "Without You," sung by the two lovers, Roger and Mimi. There is also that strong desire to live for the day, with a weak hope for the future.
"Rent" is at Warwick's Ocean State Theatre through March 17. Call 921-6800 for reservations.