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Boston’s New Repertory Theater is currently showing its production of the groundbreaking rock opera Rent, marking the fifteenth anniversary of the original Broadway production’s debut. “Now is the time,” said Bridget O’Leary, Artistic Associate of the theater. She went on to explain, “Our season this year is about legacy, and about what we leave behind…there’s such a strong theme of urgency, and a message of living for today.” The musical, written and composed by Jonathan Larsen, follows the lives of seven friends in New York’s Lower East Side as they deal with relationships, drug use, the AIDS epidemic, and the struggle to pay the rent as they follow artistic careers. It’s a message that’s relevant even fifteen years later, particularly with the recent developments in the fight for gay rights, as well as in the ongoing burden of the recession.
The cast shook off their morning grogginess to start out their studio performance strong with the song “What You Own,” performed by John Ambrosino as Mark and Robert St. Laurence as Roger. Even in the studio, without the trappings of a full stage production, both performers put such power behind the music that it was easy to feel the energy of a live show. Lyrics like “You’re living in America/leave your conscience at the tone/and when you’re living in America/at the end of the millennium/you’re what you own,” underscored the musical’s ongoing resonance to our present-day culture.
The cast brought tenderness, but no less power, to the love song “I’ll Cover You,” performed by Maurice Parent as Tom Collins and recent Emerson alum Nick Sulfaro as Angel. Sulfaro discussed his time at Emerson, emphasizing the individuality he felt in his musical theater education: “Emerson really prepares you to be your own performer, instead of the performer that someone else wants you to be.”
Finally, Aimee Doherty as Maureen and Robin Long as Joanne closed out the in-studio performance with a dynamic rendition of “Take Me Or Leave Me.” Both actresses brought their characters fully into the studio, with Doherty dancing in place and mugging for the rest of the cast. Long had to step back from the microphone at many points to adjust for the power of her voice. The number promised to be a live showstopper.
Rent was directed by Benjamin Evett and choreographed by Kelli Edwards. The New Repertory Theater production will be running through September 25th at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA.