Rent’s rock-themed musical remains relevant, with its dark comedy and complex characters. During its run at ASU Gammage, the cast of “Rent” delivers a performance that revives the passion of long-time fans, while appealing to new ones.
“Rent,” a story of a group of dysfunctional friends who struggle with disease, impoverishment, drug abuse, and death, is a family the audience desperately wants to be a part of.
“Rent” follows roommates Roger Davis, an aspiring musician, and Mark Cohen, an amateur film maker, both of whom are starving artists in New York City. Their friend and former roommate, Benny, has become their harsh and money-hungry landlord who is demanding a year’s worth of rent.
At the same time, Roger and Mark’s friend, Tom Collins, a gay professor at New York University, is mugged on his way to their apartment. Weak and wounded, Collins is found by Angel, a flamboyant drag queen who finds a spark of love with the vulnerable professor.
The story mostly focuses on Roger, whose music is being stunted by his depression. Roger’s girlfriend commits suicide after learning she has AIDS. Roger, who also contracted the disease, spends his days avoiding others until he meets Mimi Marquez, an exotic dancer who also suffers from AIDS, and the two set on a path for love that is full of obstacles and heart break.
Merely describing the plot of “Rent,” however, does not do the musical justice. At its core, it is a story where all the characters are interwoven and all share something in common. Rather than a black-and-white story, “Rent’s” characters all belong to a gray area, as they try to remain on a moral path.
Joshua Bess’ portrayal of the dark and moody punk musician, Roger, truly captivates the audience with the remarkable story of the character. But it is through his singing that Bess manages to grab the audience’s attention as he reveals what lies beneath the body armor Roger hides behind. His counterpart, Mark, is a more energetic character.
Perhaps small in stature but Logan Marks, who portrays Mark, is a theatrical force to be reckoned with. The actor nails the performance of the somewhat quirky character who serves as the narrator. His voice and enthusiastic performance are an incredible contrast with Bess’ Roger.
In addition, Mimi is perhaps one of the most complex characters of “Rent,” and Deri’Andra Tucker makes sure to perfectly highlight every aspect of her personality. Tucker’s performance can turn from flirtatious to dramatic in a second, and leaves the audience wondering what the character may do next.
The 20th anniversary tour of Rent revives its story with themes that are relevant. In fact, watching this musical roughly 20 years after its debut, truly shows how ahead of its time it was when it made its first appearance.
Rent at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe, 480.965.3434, asugammage.com. Available until June 2.