Review: ‘La Vie Boheme’ lives in Hollywood

The RENT cast all stand with their fists in the air, some on a table in the center of the stage.
“RENT”, a musical drama created by Jonathan Larson, takes place in the LGBTQIA + community of bohemian New York within the AIDS epidemic of the 90s, but is no less relevant today during the “Broadway Farewell Tour”. (Photo courtesy of Carol Rogge, Creative Commons)

Bohemia is not dead; In fact, he lived 25 years later. The Broadway musical “Farewell Tour” on Broadway made its way to Hollywood Avenue this past weekend at the Dolby Theater, reminding veteran and new fans why this Jonathan Larson classic is so beloved.

Many of the cast members will return to their roles on this tour, including the one and only angel played by Jabon King who stole the show, literally. King played Angel on the 20th anniversary tour, and it’s no secret why he was asked to return five years later. From her introduction to “Today For You,” Angel, a New York drag queen living with AIDS, lights up the stage with her song and dance in a Santa Claus costume singing “Today for You, Tomorrow for Me.”

Her solo mimicked the original dance, jumped from tables, swung in chairs and of course, featured the six-inch heels.

Angel’s musical partner and lover Tom Collins (Shafik Hicks) also stole the show with his solo in the second act, “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)”. Collins’ emotional performance after Angel’s death left a sharp pain in the whole theater, the last note mimicking the cry of mourning.

It’s no secret that the love affair of Collins and Angel took the stage with beautiful ballads and the emotional connection between “Queen” and “Slow Down”. This underscores why this particular musical was so revolutionary. Not only does the diverse team present different areas of life, it also presents different LGBTQIA + relationships and humanizes the AIDS epidemic that has disproportionately affected marginalized communities.

Two actors on stage during a performance, the female holds the male in a kind of dance baptism, the man looks at the audience in embarrassment.
(Photo courtesy of Carol Rogge, Creative Commons)

Ayana Smash first appeared as Mimi – a nickname I adopted from the musical – five years ago. During the tour, she continued to maintain the spirit of the character more than alive with solos “Out Tonight” and audience favorite “Without You”. Both of these songs showcased the dynamics and diversity of Smash through the play of an energetic 19-year-old boy who begs to go out and live life while dealing with addiction and diagnosing AIDS.

“Without You,” starring Angel in the hospital and Mimi becoming addicted once again after she quarreled with Roger, specifically shows the reality of the AIDS epidemic as this scene unfolds.

Roger, played by Coleman Cummings, is a worried and depressed rock artist who commits suicide by his past lover and his own illness. Cummings is doing a good job in bringing back the role of this beloved artist. One of the standout artistic moments of the first act was Roger’s decision to play guitar in the background on stage, with his friends going on with their lives to emulate the way life was going around him. Often anti-social to the point of mishap, Roger introduced the duality of life and death while maintaining a light-hearted drama-queen character, the only great drama queen being Maureen.

Maureen’s shoes are big shoes to fill, the kind that Lindy Moe has been wearing for two years. Originally played by Queen of Broadway Idina Menzel, this artist’s riffs and notes are hard to hit and are often hit. This was the case of Moe, who went a little crazy when he played this iconic character.

The tonality of “Take Me or Leave Me” was sung in a lower octave than the original, and the classic “Above the Moon” did not feel as funny as the source of Menzel as experienced from the film’s adaptation. Despite the lack of performance while playing Maureen, it was still fun to hear the auditorium “Mo” at Moe at the end of the scene.

Her snobbish partner and according to Maureen “too attentive”, Joan (Raya Graska) won wonderfully and presented the common struggles of women who love relationships with women: dealing with love in balance and patience. While imitating the stereotype of the “U-Haul” lesbian, the duo is both comical and conceivable in a relationship that is often an accurate hammer or misrepresentation.

Although the musical deals with difficult issues of death, “RENT” is ultimately about life. Mark, played by JT Wood, is a reminder that people live in memories (and in the movie) and moments they spend together will forever be a testament to their love. When he first played Mark, Wood captured the clumsy but distressed artist, who would be the only one to live off the cast since the rest would probably die of AIDS. Despite this sad reality and Angel’s death, the musical ends in a happy tone with Mimi’s resurrection.

“Without absoluteness, of choice,” Mark sang. “Be us once … instead of them.”

“RENT” paints a picture of the diverse manifestations of love and shows that it is possible to live a happy and full life despite the challenges of circumstances and loss. For this reason, Bohemia will continue to live forever even after the curtains are closed and the show retires from Broadway.

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