Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Rent’s farewell tour: we say goodbye to an old friend

Enthusiastic crowd buoys the cast

There was a lot of clapping. A lot.

The audience clapped at the end of the musical numbers — that’s to be expected — but also at their beginnings. They clapped when characters entered. They tried to clap along to La Vie Bohème, but it was too slow. They clapped for jokes in the script — sometimes before the line was delivered.

If the audience was a little excitable, they can be forgiven: this tour is, after all, a multi-city sendoff of a 14-year phenomenon, featuring several original cast members and a host of folks who’ve been refusing to pay rent for more than a decade.

In case you’re new to being gay, Rent tells the story of a group of multiethnic, sexually diverse friends, most of whom have squatted at one time or another in a derelict New York loft. When that building, and the tent city beside it, are threatened, old friends reunite and new loves are found. Along the way, we meet performance artists and AIDS activists, CEOs and drug dealers.

ALSO SEE: Rent’s Michael McElroy on the musical’s toughest number

Why Rent still matters

Part of the formula for Rent’s success is just that: it’s a formula. Collins, Maureen and the rest of the cast wear exactly the same outfits they did in the original Broadway run. Even the set’s junky metal Christmas tree is slavishly reproduced. Most of the songs are sung note-for-note with identical inflection to the original cast recording.

And that means little things stand out. With just three words, Nicolette Hart (Maureen) makes Over the Moon her own. And does anyone else get a little Samatha Bee/Amy Poehler vibe from her?

Meanwhile, a little extra tittering keeps Justin Johnston (Angel) fresh, less woman and more drag queen. It was a refreshingly masculine take on the role.

The minor quibbles hardly matter (the band was a little fast in Act One; the cast was a little phlegmy in Act Two). Most of the audience were there to say goodbye to old friends — in particular, Adam Pascal (Roger) and Anthony Rapp (Mark), reprising the principal roles that they made famous. For a Rent fan, they are among the chief pleasures of the tour.

And believe it or not, they’re both still delivering convincing performances. Rapp, with his geek-chic appearance and self-doubting-but-still-finger-waving manner, was a pleasure to watch. As narrator, frequently spotlighted, he is able to convincingly converse with the characters or talk with the audience. During the final bows, he looked like a wreck, but during the show, he was dead on.

Pascal on the other hand gave a spottier performance — loud, a little pitchy, a little less controlled. He was also so full of snot (literally) that he had to pause and wipe his nose on his scarf and half the songs rang a little, well, nasal. But he too was exciting to watch, mostly still believable after all these years — and much cuter now that he’s trimmed back the monster shag he sported in the 2005 film.

When the show ended, the audience was instantly on its feet. And if the applause disappeared a little too quickly (barely two bows), it was only because everyone — audience and cast alike — was so tuckered out.

Jan 12-24.
The Canon Theatre.
244 Victoria St, Toronto.