During the first weekend in my new apartment, my roommate and I went to see Rent at Northwestern (my alma mater). This show is one of my favorites - I’ve seen it several times when the national touring companies came through Chicago, I have the DVD of both the movie and the last Broadway performance, and have seen a fair share of maybe less-than-legal versions floating around on the internet. Safe to say, I love this show, and when I found out Northwestern was doing it, I was super excited to go see it. Northwestern has an amazing musical theater program (Adam Kantor, the final “Mark” in the original Broadway run got the role right after graduating NU) and so I knew it would be high quality (not to mention I knew some of the cast members from my time at NU, which I didn’t realize until I read the program before the show started…several of them were freshmen when I was a senior, so our paths crossed a few times. I also know the choreographer, and everything he does is amazing).
Anyway, this version was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I was expecting it to be similar to the Broadway version as far as staging goes - definitely not the case. First, it’s done in a black box theater. I wasn’t sure how that would work, but the show as a whole works so well in that format. They had decorated the whole theater with Christmas lights, and the actors utilized the setup really well and were able to interact with audience members (i.e. “Out Tonight”) with the circular format of the seats. The set design was flawless. The staging for “Contact” was also really creative. I don’t want to get too into it, but it was unlike any other version of Rent I have seen.
Also interesting…they didn’t stick to the type-cast roles, as in the actress playing Joanne and the actor playing Collins and Benny weren’t black, Angel was white, etc. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. Northwestern is diverse, and they probably could have found talented people to play the roles who fit the typical character descriptions, and the cast as a whole wasn’t all white. But, it is nice to see that they picked the best people for the part/went off of voice and acting ability, as opposed to sticking hard to the ethnic guidelines that Broadway uses. It’s kinda cool that a white actor gets a chance to play Collins (and he has a smooth baritone voice, so I’m glad he did), since on Broadway he would never have that chance. I always thought it would be fun to play Mimi or Joanne, but since I’m super pale white that isn’t realistic (not to mention I’m not a solo singer anyway, but I digress). I applaud NU for casting diverse actors, but truly letting talent dictate who gets which parts, not strictly adhering to character descriptions. I think for Rent it is important to have a diverse cast since it’s set in NYC, but I don’t think having a white Collins or Joanne is detrimental to the show as a whole, especially when they are as talented as the students at NU. They also double cast Maureen and Roger, but not the other characters, which is interesting. I wanted to go back and see the other two actors portray those roles, but I was out of town one weekend and they sold out for the closing weekend performances this weekend.
This show sold out super fast, so they added an extra Sunday night performance that will be filmed for a documentary, that I’m hoping they’ll air so I can see the show again. Information on the show here: http://www.communication.northwestern.edu/tic/performances/rent/index.php