An Ebullient ‘Rent’ at the Public Theater

Cited as a major influence by Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jonathan Larson’s landmark musical Rent arrives at the Public in a spirited production. Though it’s starting to show its age a bit with its pay phones and answering machines (what are those?), its themes of love and acceptance are timeless.

L-R: Robby French as Roger and Gavin Rohrer as Mark in Rent, now playing at the Public Theater of San Antonio.

Based on Puccini’s opera La bohème, Rent chronicles a year in the life of a group of New York Bohemians who are struggling to survive poverty, addiction and the AIDS epidemic.

Roger (Robby French) is an HIV-positive musician who hopes to be able to write one great song before he dies. His roommate, Mark (Gavin Rohrer), is an independent filmmaker who uses his life and his circle of friends in the East Village as a source of inspiration.

Mimi (Athena Boneta) is an HIV-positive exotic dancer who falls for Roger, and Angel (Louie Canales) is a drag queen percussionist who likewise falls for Roger and Mark’s friend Tom (Isidro Medina III). There’s also Mark’s ex-girlfriend, the performance artist Maureen (Taylor Chilton), who left him for lawyer Joanne (Alexandria J. Henderson), and Benjamin (Damon McToy), who used to be Roger and Mark’s roommate, but is now their tough-as-nails landlord.

The cast is uniformly excellent and features some fine rock and roll voices vital for this material. The ensemble is also a standout, providing rich harmonization and background color to depict the hectic activity of city life.

The technical aspects of this production are solid. Jeremy Whittington’s urban-sprawl set is well-lit by Dan “Doc” Heggem, and the costumes by Sara Brookes are spot-on. Courtnie Mercer’s choreography and Zachariah Baker’s musical direction bring the score to vivid life, which includes such memorable numbers as “Seasons of Love,” “Light My Candle” and “La Vie Bohème/I Should Tell You.” It’s also solidly directed by David Nanny.

Rent plays Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. through Feb. 17 at the Public Theater of San Antonio, 800 W. Ashby Place. Reservations can be made online or by calling (210) 733-7258.

Photos by Siggi Ragnar.

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