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MNfusion: Minneapolis Audiences Enamored With 'Rent' 20th Anniversary

On Tuesday evening, Minneapolis welcomed the cast of the 20th anniversary tour of "Rent" as the show opened at the Orpheum Theatre.

People, young and old, flocked to the theater to see the musical-turned-movie that has captivated audiences since 1996.

The Twin Cities run opened to a packed house, full of excited fans. It was clear from the beginning the bodies in the seats knew the show inside and out.

Danny Harris Kornfeld sang the first note as Mark and sounded nearly identical to Anthony Rapp, who originated the role on Broadway.

The opening company number, "Rent," showed off the energy and powerful voices of the cast, but lacked the bite of true angst.

The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour
(credit: Carol Rosegg)

The cast as a whole was extremely talented, full of vibrant singers and impressive dancers. They clearly loved performing the show. Numbers like "Tango Maureen" and "La Vie Boheme" had tight, expressive and fun choreography and the cast's energy was palpable.

But, several times throughout the show this energy seemed to be a bit stifled by the music. In several numbers, the performer and the band were not in sync.

In "Take Me Or Leave Me" Jasmine Easler (Joanne) and Katie Lamark (Maureen) were feeding off audience energy, wanting to show off their vocal runs and trills, but were often cut short by quick pace of the band. This also occurred with Kaleb Wells (Roger) in "One Song Glory."

Additionally, while Wells played the Kurt Cobain-styled Roger's anger well, he lacked the broader range of despair, desperation, confusion and loss the character needs to be more empathetic. He was a bit one-noted.

Skyler Volpe also failed to impress, playing Mimi quite literally as a teenager desperate for attention and love. During "Light My Candle" she created a Mimi that was aggressive, needy and over-the-top.

However, Volpe's voice was beautiful, and her rendition of "Without You" was very moving.

While some characters fell flat, two actors stole the show with their portrayals of lovers Angel and Collins.

David Merino as Angel in 'Rent'
(credit: Carol Rosegg)

From the first moment their characters met on stage, Aaron Harrington and David Merino made audiences fall in love along with them.

As a high school musical theater student, perhaps Roger and Mimi seem the most romantic couple in the show, but as an adult the love between Angel and Collins is so much more pure.

The two men, both new to professional musical theater – Merino still a student at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and Harrington staring in his first show, showed incredible talent.

Merino's range, along with his ability to dance and drum across the stage effortlessly, was unbelievable. While Harrington's deep bass brought audiences to tears during "I'll Cover You Reprise."

Though faces and voices may have changed, "Rent" remains the same as it was when it debuted over 20 years ago.

Which, in an age where many shows have rewritten songs to change outdated lyrics or created characters to add diversity, seems strange.

"Rent" is probably just as relevant in today's era as it was when it first opened. With a few additions, or edits, here or there the show could speak to audiences in a new way while retaining the original message -- love conquers hate.

While the 20th anniversary has vibrancy and power, it lacks a bit of drive to be more than the original.

Danger comes in viewing this as something that was, and not something that is, both in terms of the problems the characters face and the quality of the show.

As with the characters' relationships in the show, let's not let our blind love of this story make us ask less of it and stifle what it can be.

"Rent" is open now and playing through June 11. Tickets cost $39 to $139. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit Henepin Theatre Trust online.


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