Before we go on with the showing, I’ll need you to read over and initial the most important clause in our contract: David Cromer’s intimate Rent isn’t a reinvention. Nor did Cromer, the hometown director and MacArthur genius grantee, promise anything radical in his interpretation of Jonathan Larson’s iconic 1996 musical about the lives and loves of struggling New York artists in the AIDS-ravaged early ’90s. “It works just fine by itself,” he insisted in a recent interview.
Yet if not reinvented, this revival by American Theater Company and About Face Theatre is thrillingly rescaled. Where Michael Greif’s original production sanded down rough edges in Larson’s play whether they existed or not, turning the characters’ squalid Alphabet City bohemia into palatably arty scaffolding and electric-blue leggings, Cromer adds a grungier sensibility that should have been there all along.
Tim Splain’s music direction is grittier than the synthy, Stevie Wonder–ish original cast recording I wore out in college. The cast members harmonize when called for but allow their voices to break at the top of their registers, rock & roll–style. So while the occasional off note can be heard, there’s never a false one.
First among equals in the balls-out cast are Alan Schmuckler’s mini mensch filmmaker Mark, Aileen May’s jagged crusader Maureen and Esteban Andres Cruz’s streetwise genderfucker Angel. But for full-ensemble joy, look to the unadorned, melisma-free rendition of “Seasons of Love” that opens Act II. Go ahead and sign the lease, pookie; this Rent’s got all the amenities you need.