Editors' pick



Editorial Review

Star-Powered 'Rent' Is One Hot Property

By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 29, 2009

The "Rent"-heads of Washington are making the pilgrimage back to the spiritual source this week. And they are seeing that it is still good.

First, Adam Pascal, "Rent's" original Roger, strolls onto the Warner Theatre stage and picks up his electric guitar. The audience squeals. On his heels arrives the Mark of "Rent's" genesis, Anthony Rapp, in the trademark nerdy winter jacket and maroon-and-white scarf. The shrieking intensifies.

It's show-tune ecstasy for the local crowd. Jonathan Larson's rock musical, populated by AIDS-afflicted bohemians in Manhattan's East Village, has been here several times, but never with Rapp and Pascal, whose participation gives this touring production the feel of a supercharged reunion concert. And because the two stars are surrounded by a first-rate ensemble -- which has not always been the case when "Rent" tours -- the occasion justifies the electricity up and down the aisles.

Rapp, 37, and Pascal, 38, have been playing these roles on and off since the show's birth in 1996, including in the 2005 movie version. Which means that Mark and Roger have been in their lives for about one-third of their own runs on the planet. It's professionally double-edged for an actor to stick with a part for this long, particularly in a show that seeks to bottle that peculiar stage of youth, when rebelliousness starts to melt into a more mature grasp of love and responsibility.

To their great advantage, though, both actors still look and sound remarkably like the Roger and Mark of the mid-'90s. If anything, Pascal's voice-built-for-rock shows more range, and Rapp finds a new depth of passion in Mark, the conflicted filmmaker from the 'burbs. His vocal contribution has always been underrated, for Rapp competes satisfyingly with the powerhouse Pascal, who is also bringing more varied emotionality to Roger, the story's blocked rock composer.

They are accompanied on this occasion by several standout veterans of subsequent casts on Broadway, including Lexi Lawson's sexy Mimi Marquez and the terrific Michael McElroy and Justin Johnson as the lovers Tom Collins and Angel Schunard. Singing the octave-leaping solo in "Seasons of Love," Crystal Monee Hall also offers a stirring breakout moment.

Haneefah Wood and Nicolette Hart find all the biting comic interludes for the bickering lesbian couple, Joanne and Maureen. They'd get no complaint, however, if they dialed down their snazzy Act 2 duet, "Take Me or Leave Me," a smidge; in the age of "American Idol," everyone in musicals belts to beat the band, and this unfortunate trend leads in this instance to some screaming of lyrics. (This begins to become a problem for other singers, too, as the evening unfolds.)

In general, though, this incarnation is as fit as the two familiar fellows on the stage who incite all those more appropriate shrieks from the balcony.

Rent, book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson. Directed by Michael Greif. Set, Paul Clay; costumes, Angela Wendt; choreography, Marlies Yearby; sound, Brian Ronan; music supervision, Tim Weil; music direction, David Truskinoff. With Jacques C. Smith. About 2 1/2 hours.