“Hey Simone Biles, can you do this? And how about in high heeled boots?”
That’s an imagined dare from quadruple threat Aiyana Smash who plays Mimi Marquez in this famed knock-off rock adaptation of La Bohème called RENT. Quadruple threat? Yes, with Smash’s moves more in keeping with Olympic gymnastic routines than musical theater choreography, it seems more than fair to note Smash’s talents. Her equivalent of pole dancing on a horizontal metal bannister is a notch or two more athletic than dance per se.
Choreography, much of it explosive movement, is one of the calling cards of what is billed as the RENT 25thANNIVERSARY FAREWELL TOUR. From the very beginning, when Coleman Cummings as Roger Davis picks up his guitar, the cast rushes in like a storm of midnight cockroaches that were typical in the 70’s/ 80’s Alphabetland setting of this rock musical. The nimble cast readily jumps on top of the folding table that is the centerpiece décor, or chairs, or hangs from the scaffolding mountain of bike parts and debris that we come to take as the street. The production’s dancing forte most of all takes form, in this writer’s view, with the high heeled and improbably dressed drag queen Angel (played by Javon King), who is sass come alive with rhythm, and a delight to behold.
This is a street full of junkies, pre-crack epidemic, whom we presume shared many needles allowing AIDS to stalk them. Gentrification was leaving them homeless--a term popularized at the time of this story to replace the use of bum—when suddenly nobody could afford the titular rent on Avenues A, B, C and surrounds. It’s a time when AIDS victims are being shunned and often abandoned by those closest to them, but terrified of the disease’s toll. Perhaps this was the seminal idea for playwright Jonathan Larson’s conceit to adapt Puccini’s La Bohème opera and its centerpiece love story between Rodolfo and sickly Mimi. RENT’s Mimi, however, is no fragile waif and this is not your grandmother’s Puccini. The opening electric guitar chords shout this out from the first minutes of the performance.
In this writer’s view, this is not chi charging rock n’ roll. Rather, the scream-it-out rock numbers prime us to better appreciate the gentle melodies that have sprung from RENT into many a singer’s repertoire, from torch to folk, such as Seasons of Love and Without You. This production certainly features some standout vocal performances worthy of a nationwide tour. In particular it doesn’t surprise to learn from the program notes that Shafiq Hicks, who plays Tom Collins, has sung with Aretha, among other vocal giants.
Broadway in Chicago Chooses Musical History Milestone for Re-Opener
RENT is part of our cultural history, and for that reason alone, should make its way on to the short list of musicals to see, for anyone interested in musical theater. If the opening night crowd was any indicator, it would be more appropriate to call it THE NOSTALGIA TOUR. There didn’t seem to be a dance move or high note that most of the crowd didn’t know was coming, even though a huge portion of the audience were likely not even born when the show was first performed. One can imagine that some of them will be going to see this Farewell Tour more than once!
This suggests that Broadway in Chicago’s President, Lou Raisin, who began the night by giving thanks to this audience for standing by during the pandemic, knows a thing or two about bringing light back to our darkened stages. Stay tuned for more Broadway in Chicago reviews in the months to come. They are back!
Now through October 10, 2021
Tuesday, October 5 at 7:30PM
Wednesday, October 6 at 7:30PM
Thursday, October 7 at 7:30PM
Friday, October 8 at 7:30PM
Saturday, October 9 at 2PM & 8PM
Sunday, October 10 at 2PM & 7:30PM
Broadway In Chicago’s
CIBC Theatre (18 W. Monroe St.)
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.