Jonathan Larson’s RENT became an instant sensation 20 years ago when it premiered in New York City, and it has gone on to become the most beloved of all the post-Broadway musicals among young people. Gritty yet uplifting, and scandalous but with a big heart, RENT is the show that keeps on giving back to the companies that choose to put it on. This stellar production, directed by Kameron Tarlow and performed at the Santa Barbara Art Foundry space deep in the Funk Zone, manages to capitalize on what’s great about RENT and at the same time show off the impressive skills of a large cast of talented young actors. Gabe Reali makes a terrific, believable Mark, thus establishing the basis for a story that’s one part Alphabet City, circa 1988, and the rest La Bohème, the timeless opera about starving artists living in cold apartments.
The success of this RENT comes from several sources. The sharp, witty choreography makes the most of the Foundry’s irregular setup, and the excellent band sounds great coming from a loft platform above and to the left of the playing area. Matthew Doohan gets maximum mileage out of Roger’s many emotional ups and downs. As Maureen, Miriam Dance-Leavy is consistently stunning, her vocal capacity clearly well matched to this demanding role. Julia Kupiec is a great and memorable Mimi, seemingly made for the part with her expressive singing voice and diminutive stature. No review of this RENT would be complete without mentioning the magical Daniel Salinas, who pulls off a remarkably convincing Angel, or Tad Murroughs, who gives Tom Collins a tough, streetwise presence to counterbalance his intellectual side. Kasey Bryant and Alba Vargas are brilliant as well, as is the entire ensemble of singers and dancers. If you care about this show, don’t miss this fine production.