Book, music, and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Dallas Summer Musicals
Roger Davis - Coleman Cummings
Mark Cohen - J.T. Wood
Tom Collins - Shafiq Hicks
Benjamin Coffin III - Jarred Bedgood
Joanne Jefferson - Rayla Garske
Angel Schunard - Javon King
Mimi Marquez - Aiyana Smash
Maureen Johnson - Lyndie Moe
Mark’s Mom and others - Makenzie Rivera
Christmas Caroler, Mr. Jefferson, Pastor, and others - Jahir L. Hipps
Mrs. Jefferson, Woman with Bags, and others - Elizabeth Adabale
Gordon, The Man, Mr. Grey, and others - Stephen Rochet Lopez
Steve, Man with Squeegee, a Waiter, and others - James Schoppe
Paul and others - Mathew Bautista
Alexi Darling, Roger’s Mom, and others - Yz Jasa
Director - Evan Ensign
Choreography - Marlies Yearby
Set Design - Paul Clay
Costume Design - Angela Wendt
Lighting Design - Jonathan Spencer
Sound Design - Keith Caggiano
Reviewed Performance: 2/18/2022
Reviewed by Joel Gerard, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I have a full-size poster of the original Broadway cast of RENT hanging in my living room. I’ve been a fan of this show ever since I got the 1996 original soundtrack on double disc CD (remember those?). I knew every word of this show before I ever saw the first national tour of RENT that came to Dallas. Now we have the 25th anniversary national farewell tour of the Broadway musical, presented on stage at the Music Hall at Fair Park as part of the Dallas Summer Musicals series. To this day, this show is as exhilarating, touching, and heartbreaking as the first time I heard the soundtrack on my CD player.
Hailed as a “rock musical” back then, it was the very definition of a modern musical that had very little in common stylistically with classic shows like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! This was a show for and about young people and their struggles in the 1990’s with love, loss, and AIDS. Jonathan Larson wrote the book, music, and lyrics to RENT, and he based the plot off of Puccini’s opera La Bohème. The first version was shown in a workshop production at New York Theatre Workshop in 1993. Famously, Jonathan Larson died of an aortic dissection the night before the off-Broadway premiere. There’s been a renewed interest in Larson’s life with the release this year of the Netflix film Tick, Tick…BOOM! That movie musical is semi-autobiographical and gives a glimpse of Larson’s life before he created RENT. If you are curious to learn more about him, I highly suggest watching Tick, Tick…BOOM! It is excellent as well.
The show moved to Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996. It opened to critical acclaim and won many awards. RENT was nominated for 10 Tony Awards that year and won Best Musical, the Drama Desk award for Best Musical, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. For the Broadway production, they sold $20 same-day tickets for people who normally couldn’t afford standard Broadway prices and it also helped to appeal to the younger generation to see theatre.
The current 25th anniversary farewell tour at Dallas Summer Musicals is a thoroughly exciting and incredible production. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a cast, of any show, with as much energy as this cast has. They all give 110% on that stage and commit to every word and note in the show. The audience cheered and applauded at characters entrances and cried at the death and heartbreak. So, this cast accomplished their mission to make us feel something and teach us that there’s “No Day But Today.”
Unfortunately, on opening night on Friday, there were some sound issues. During the song “Rent,” the actor playing Benny’s body microphone started to cut out and was making static noises and a tech crew person handed him a handheld microphone to sing into for the remainder of the song until he went offstage at the end of the number. Thankfully, it was fixed very quickly and probably not noticeable to most of the audience. In addition, I also attended the Saturday evening performance the next night and the same problem happened again. This time it happened to the actor playing Roger during “Another Day” and a tech person had to hand him a microphone as well. It was very noticeable this time, but I applaud the actor for taking it in stride and not letting it hinder his performance. Also, the sound levels seemed off at times with the orchestra overpowering some of the singing.
The central love story is between Mimi played by Aiyana Smash and Roger played by Coleman Cummings. Smash has a soulful voice with an almost gospel-like quality. She gives an absolutely show-stopping performance of “Out Tonight.” Smash dances with quick, precise movements and uses her lithe body to showcase her agility and strength. Cummings as Roger did not fair quite as well in my opinion. There were many times that he was not singing on the beat and it caused him to be behind the music. I don’t know if it was a character choice or he just couldn’t hear the tempo, but he was off. And a few times he missed his cue and started singing late. His chest voice was rather timid when he sang, but when he switched to his upper register his voice soared and rang through the theatre.
The relationship between gay couple Collins and Angel is probably the most heartwarming and touching in the show. Angel is a drag queen living with AIDS and is played by Javon King who is a scene-stealer and will most likely make it big someday. King’s big number is “Today 4 U” and he nails it. While singing and strutting around the stage in a dress and heels, he is also drumming and jumping on tables. Watching this is really impressive. Whether it was intentional or not, more than a few times I noticed King’s inflection and delivery were similar to RuPaul and her proclamations (“You Betta Work!”). Given how ubiquitous RuPaul is now, it’s not surprising to see and hear her influence in a drag queen performance. Shafiq Hicks plays Collins who is a former professor at MIT and an anarchist also living with AIDS. Hicks really shines during his Act 2 number “I’ll Cover You” (Reprise). It’s a sad song and I’ve never heard anyone sing it the way he did. His voice was guttural and rumbling to the point it seemed like the song was pouring out of him. Not only that but his voice has incredible range, going from a baritone to falsetto all in the same song.
The other couple are the on-again, off-again lesbians Joanne and Maureen. Joanne is a headstrong lawyer and Maureen is a flirty bisexual performance artist. Rayla Garske as Joanne has a big voice, but her performance overall was a little flat and lacked emotion. Lyndie Moe as Maureen has the standout performance art number “Over The Moon” and she really makes it her own with her movements and wacky sounds. Moe has a deeper voice that comes across as sultry and smooth. With her red hair and pin-up girl style, she accurately portrays a vixen with confidence.
Perhaps my favorite performance was from J.T. Wood as Mark. Mark is kind of the glue in the middle of all the characters and our narrator at times. He wants to be a filmmaker and artist but wants to do it on his own terms. Wood’s voice is so incredibly crystal clear and beautiful. I was amazed by his diction and how clearly I could always hear every word and consonant he said. It was easy to focus on him and watch his every move.
It’s worth mentioning the incredible amount of diversity on stage in this show. RENT was written for the main characters to be all different races, but even 25 years ago when RENT first opened it had to be one of the only shows with a cast where the lead actors were Black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. Not only that but fully realized characters that are straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual. RENT was mainly called “the show about AIDS,” but it’s about so much more than that. It’s something special to have a musical that shows real life and interactions between people of different races and orientations and how they fall in love, find friendship, and become family.
Dallas Summer Musicals
Music Hall at Fair Park
909 1st Ave, Dallas, TX 75210
February 18th - 20th, 2022
Tickets: For dates, times and ticket information go to www.dallassummermusicals.org or call the box office at 214-691-7200.