By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News
12:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, May 6, 2009
A little distance brings things into focus: Rent is incomparably the greatest Broadway musical in, say, the last 30 years, and the farewell tour that the Dallas Summer Musicals brought to Fair Park Music Hall on Tuesday is probably your last chance to see it in pristine shape, as good as when in opened in New York 13 years ago.
The back story, of course, is so sad and perfect it seems made up. The young genius who wrote Rent, Jonathan Larson, died of an aneurysm right before the triumphant first performance. His transposition of the story of La Boheme to downtown Manhattan won every prize going, and this tangled skein of sex and romance (straight, gay and bi) in which half the characters are trying to live with AIDS won a whole new generation of fans to the theater.
From the screeches that greeted the first two actors onstage Tuesday, you’d think all those fans were in attendance to greet the show’s original stars. Anthony Rapp, as detached filmmaker Mark, looks just like he did in 1996; if anything, his timing and diction are sharper and his performance more engaged. Adam Pascal, playing alienated songwriter Roger, looks leaner and meaner, neither inappropriate to the character; his singing voice has taken on a rasping rocker’s edge that works well, too.
Original director Michael Greif has knit the rest of the cast into a tight ensemble. Amazingly, you can hear almost every word in this often intractable space. Former American Idol contestant Lexi Lawson eases her way uncomfortably through Mimi’s precarious dance on the fire escape, but her voice and her onstage presence are both gorgeous. Nicolette Hart makes a hilarious Maureen, and Michael McElroy brings his sonorous voice and vast stage experience to Tom Collins. Unfortunately, Justin Johnston doesn’t have that seraphic aura you ideally want in the role of Angel, but he dies magnificently.
Ultimately, it’s Larson’s tingling melodies and handcrafted lyrics (and his skill at building large forms out of both) that make Rent so special. Its frankness about sex and drugs means it’s not for everyone. Still, if you are curious or perhaps already know the score, but have never seen the show (or have only seen the dispiriting 2005 screen version), you owe yourself a trip to the Music Hall.
PLAN YOUR LIFE Through Sunday at Fair Park Music Hall. Runs 165 mins. $15 to $85.
Buy tickets here: http://www.ticketmaster.com/promo/vf0c6y?camefrom=DSM_WEB_RENT_BLOG