In the late ‘90’s, “RENT” was the “Hamilton” of the time, a Broadway sensation that rippled through popular culture, becoming the must-see show and generating hit songs.
Today, “RENT” is a time capsule of its era and place of New York’s Alphabet City with references to now-gone clubs such as CBGB, the shuttered Village Voice newspaper, pay telephones and a story about artist squatters who are about to be evicted from a loft without heat.
Now, artists are being pushed out of Manhattan, squatters are rare and even Alphabet City, once Manhattan’s most dangerous neighborhood, is being tamed.
Perhaps most pertinently, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which hangs over Jonathan Larson’s musical, is largely, thankfully, over.
All of that, then, gives “RENT” a different feel today than it had 20 years ago. But it remains popular enough to stay on tour, playing multiple shows in each city where it stops.
And, as presented at the Lied Center for Performing Arts on Friday, it remains a crowd-pleaser, enthusiastically played by the young, believable cast.
The standout of that cast is Deri’Andra Tucker, who plays Mimi Marquez, the junkie dancer who conveys every bit of the come-on “Light My Candle,” during which she’s trying to entice depressed guitarist Roger, slithers down the staircase on the seductive “Out Tonight” and the love and loneliness of “Without You.”
Also of particular note is Devinre Adams, who as Tom Colllins, the gay anarchist college professor, first delivers an endearing romantic duet with drag queen Angel (Javon King) and then, on the song’s second act reprise, brings the heartbreak of the man who lost his lover to HIV.
As always, the goofiest performance of the show comes from Lyndie Moe, who as performance artist Maureen gets to do the extremely weird number “Over the Moon” that’s a protest song of sorts.
It’s followed by “La Vie Boheme/I Should Tell You” by the company, in full fine voice — a song that makes clear Larson’s debt to Puccini’s “La Boheme.”
This version of “RENT” is very effectively staged, with the five-piece band — this is a rock musical — tucked onto one side of the stage and quickly changed tables and other props moving the action from indoors to outside and place to place.
That provides the setting for a well-done version of the musical that will forever be of its time.