Broadway's Nederlander Theatre is experiencing a sudden rebound in attendance following months of half-full houses. Almost twelve years since they first appeared in Rent, (Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp) have unexpectedly returned to the roles of Roger and Mark. Interestingly, almost the entire audience looks too young to have seen them play the roles in 1996.
Long before Wicked and Spring Awakening became the favorite shows amongst the pre-teen and adolescent crowd, Rent, Jonathan Larson's look at East Village inhabitants through the landscape of La Boheme, introduced hundreds of thousands to musical theater through its ingenious mix of early 90s hard rock music with the wit and passion of traditional musical theater writing. Not only do most of these fans still listen to the original cast album of Rent, they memorize it, line by line.
So while those clamoring to see Adam and Anthony return to their Bohemian counterparts may not have seen them in the show before, most of them have listened to their voices on their CD player or IPOD for years. Of course, they did return to these roles three years ago in Chris Columbus' pleasant but disappointing film version of the musical. But to truly experience Rent, one must hear those gospel anthems, earthy lyrics and wailing guitar solos live and loud, not prerecorded and constrained.
Let's confront the big question: Are Adam and Anthony, now in their late-thirties, too old to return to play two East Village junkies in their mid-twenties? As it happens, they look younger onstage than they did in the film. And in the nicest surprise of all, they sound better vocally now than they did twelve years ago, hitting higher notes and making stronger acting choices. And American Idol finalist Tamyra Gray makes a nice addition as Mimi, adding unexpected wardrobe changes for her sickness scene.
But more importantly, is Rent now dated? Yes. And no. The East Village of 1996 is not the same one we see in 2007. Starving artists are no longer to be found in abandoned lofts on Avenue B. But thanks to the youthful, joyous spirit of its score and Michael Greif's innovative staging, Rent will certainly live on as future middle school students commit the cast album to memory. Did we mention that a version of the show was just released for high school students?