by Erin Nagel
Twenty years ago the world was first introduced to Jonathan Larson’s rock opera RENT. Now a new generation of theatre fans are being introduced to RENT’s themes of love, family, finding your voice and living for today. Lyric Arts took a risk when they decided to produce this show. The themes are universal, but the topics covered can be considered controversial. Especially for a suburban theatre known for producing family friendly theatre. Director Matt McNabb honored the late Jonathan Larson with his vision and direction of this piece. Staying true to the show, McNabb didn’t make any adjustments to the language or storylines. He stayed true to the vision Larson had for this show.
Not only did McNabb cast actors that embrace the iconic roles, but ones who are able to mold the role into their own. Kendall Anne Thompson brings a raw energy to her Maureen. I saw her once before in History Theatre’s Baby Case last Fall and loved her voice. But as Maureen she is force to be reckon with. She tackles the role and makes it her own. She provides a hip, modern approach to a character in a cult hit musical which can be tricky. Her voice is flawless. Her best scene is Maureen’s protest “Over the Moon”. During this scene she shines and truly showcases her incredible acting range. As Roger, Blake Rhiner provides the role with a much needed jaded feel. You can feel the longing of the much bigger dreams he holds than the reality he is currently facing in “One Song Glory”. His chemistry with Mimi (Courtney Groves) is strained, but I feel this helps showcase the emotional relationship they have. Its not a typical relationship since they are both dealing with their AIDs diagnosis and drug use.
Lyric Arts made the right choice when they decided to take a risk with this production. Sharing this show with a new generation of theatre fans and allowing those who have seen it before to experience it all over again. If you have ever had the desire to check out RENT or if you’re a RENThead and want to see the show again I highly suggest you make the drive to Anoka to see this production. You won’t regret it. I promise it.
Erin Nagel is an active member of the Minneapolis theatre community and creator and editor of theatre review blog Girl Meets Broadway