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updated: 3/17/2014 9:10 PM

Paramount's 'Rent' pays off artistically in Aurora

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  • Mark (Andrew M. Mueller), left front, and Roger (Adam Michaels) lead the ensemble in the title number "Rent" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. The production runs through Sunday, April 6.

      Mark (Andrew M. Mueller), left front, and Roger (Adam Michaels) lead the ensemble in the title number "Rent" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. The production runs through Sunday, April 6.
    Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Paramount Theatre

  • Angel (Sawyer Smith), Mimi (Adaeze' Kelley) and Maureen (Andrea Prestinario) dance on the table and sing the Act I closer "La Vie Boheme" in Paramount Theatre's production of "Rent," now playing in Aurora through Sunday, April 6.

      Angel (Sawyer Smith), Mimi (Adaeze' Kelley) and Maureen (Andrea Prestinario) dance on the table and sing the Act I closer "La Vie Boheme" in Paramount Theatre's production of "Rent," now playing in Aurora through Sunday, April 6.
    Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Paramount Theatre

  • The ensemble of "Rent" performs the Act II anthem "Seasons of Love" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

      The ensemble of "Rent" performs the Act II anthem "Seasons of Love" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
    Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Paramount Theatre

  • Video: Paramount Theatre "Rent" ad

 
 

The late Jonathan Larson's once-hip 1996 rock musical "Rent" is a period piece of sorts. The graffiti-tagged Lower East Side neighborhoods haunted by the show's early-1990s bohemian artists have long since gentrified, while their death-sentence view of HIV/AIDS might be mitigated today by life-extending medications that came onto the market later that decade.

That doesn't mean, however, that Paramount Theatre's passionate and gritty production in Aurora is old hat, or that the issues don't still resonate. Despite the show's Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning pedigree and its plot roots drawn from Puccini's 1896 opera "La bohème," "Rent" maintains its edge -- and can alienate more conservative audiences with its interwoven relationships of struggling artists, gay and straight.

But Paramount's gamble on "Rent" pays off artistically with another Broadway-caliber production that feels exuberantly alive and fresh.

Director Jim Corti and his production team aren't slavishly beholden to the look or casting types of the original Broadway run. In fact, Corti and choreographer Katie Spelman's production often offers more clarity than the original 1996 "Rent" staging.

Paramount's "Rent" benefits enormously from vocally adept cast members who can toss off pop melismas and dig deep down to their guts for anguished rock howls like there's no tomorrow. I was also pleasantly surprised that the Paramount cast placed more emphasis on articulating their lyrics than in past "Rent" productions I've seen (also a credit to sound designer Adam Rosenthal).

At times, however, some of the romantic couplings feel unbalanced. As the drug-addled dancer Mimi, Adaeze' Kelley is so fit and capable that she overshadows the mopey ex-junkie musician Roger of Adam Michaels. The same goes for the powerful Meghan Murphy as the no-nonsense lesbian attorney Joanne, who all but steam-rolls over Andrea Prestinario as the pretentious and promiscuous bisexual performance artist Maureen.

More evenly matched are Sawyer Smith and Evan Tyrone Martin respectively as the fierce drag queen Angel and his thoughtful academic lover Tom Collins (both great in the duet and sad reprise of "I'll Cover You"), while Kelvin Roston Jr. thankfully doesn't make landlord Benny too much into a moustache-twirling bad guy.

Observing it all is the fine Andrew M. Mueller as indie filmmaker Mark, whose end-of-show movie looks more like a touching AIDS documentary than self-indulgent footage in other productions.

While the love lives of "Rent's" characters will always be more interesting than the actual art they produce, their youthful ardor can be inspiring. Paramount Theatre's solid production is a reminder of why "Rent" still has the power to touch so many hearts.

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