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Concert Reviews:
"Rent" remains joyous, and relevant,at the Fisher Theatre

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2019

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One of "Rent's" central tenants is that you can only rent love, not buy it.

But a legion of fans -- regular return visitors who treat the characters like old friends and the songs like favorites at a regular rock concert -- has certainly bought into the show.

As the road production's 20th anniversary tour hunkers down again at Detroit's Fisher Theatre through Jan. 20, "Rent" sits comfortably in its iconic status. Some once provocative aspects of the late Jonathan Larson's Tony Award-winning update of Giacomo Puccini's "La Boheme" feel more like history -- particularly the forthright look at the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s -- but other plot points still carry weight. The poverty and drug addictions of New York's Alphabet City remains resonant in 2019, while character Roger Davis' isolation speaks in a renewed way at a time when mental health and depression have become prevalent societal issues.

In other words, Larson's masterpiece still has legs and hits strong emotional chords -- especially when it's delivered with the youthful but skilled exuberance of its current touring company, many of whom probably weren't walking, or even born, when "Rent" began workshops during 1993.

This version of "Rent" checks all the boxes, including stark, open-sided staging that illustrates the gritty environs of its subject. More than 25 years later Larson's songs remain mostly bulletproof -- "Seasons of Love" is arguably one of the great songs of the 20th century, even -- and this nimbly choreographed cast revels in that, even if they sing them as theatrical "hits" rather than expressions of their own lives. Javon King's doomed Angel (if that's a spoiler than you've been living under a rock) is playful and boundless, Joshua Bess' Davis is convincingly aloof and angry, and Logan Marks nails Mark Cohen's nerdy earnestness. Devinre Adams plays Tom Collins with a refreshing reserve, while on the opposite end of the spectrum Lyndie Moe takes the campy "Over the Moon" over the top, emoting her way through a performance that reaches the very top and back of the theater.

For a musical so serious at its heart, "Rent" remains a celebration of love and community, and numbers such as "La Vie Boheme," "Santa Fe," "Tango: Maureen" and "Out Tonight" -- and even angsty anthems such as "Rent" and "What You Own" -- burst from the stage with joyous affirmation. They're elemental messages that are unlikely to wear out any time soon, which should keep us buying into "Rent" for a very long time.

The "Rent" 20th Anniversary Tour runs through Jan. 20 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tickets start at $39. 313-872-1000 or broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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