Cromer's RENT isn't afraid to get dirty

Cromer's RENT isn't afraid to get dirty

Leave it to David Cromer to make me question all the Rent-related eye-rolling I’ve been engaging in since the late 90’s.

Most theater-lovers seem to have a solid opinion on how they feel about Rent, regardless of whether or not they’ve actually experienced it. I was no exception. For some reason, I always felt conditioned to hate it. Maybe because it was so popular. Maybe because every girl started singing “Out Tonight” at talent shows. Maybe because I just didn’t believe that all the pretty, shiny people in EVERY RENT PRODUCTION PHOTO EVER were actually poor and diseased.

That last “maybe” is the heart of the matter, and it’s the biggest reason why Cromer’s Rent works. Stripped of all pretense and polish, Rent is finally believable. And above all else, intimate and enjoyable.

Rent has never before felt authentic, and it’s never drastically strayed from its original imagery. Google Image about it. Every Rent looks exactly the same. It’s kind of infuriating, actually. Why is everything so vibrant and jazzy?! These people are DYING! They’re STARVING! They have NO MONEY! I know it’s a musical, but MY GOD.

Cromer’s group of starving-artists are a pretty disgusting troupe, in the best sense of the word. Greasy, unkempt, and devoid of technicolor, it’s finally plausible when these people get giddy about a free box of Captain Crunch.

It should be said that David Hyman’s costumes are the most instantly refreshing aspect of this reimagining (a co-production by American Theater Company and About Face Theatre). You know you’re in for a new kind of treat when Alan Schmuckler’s wonderfully schlubby Mark shuffles onstage sans the character’s trademark scarf, sweater, and dippy hairdo. He’s so splendidly gross-looking.

Schmuckler and his engaging idiosyncrasies are the heart of this production. However, the soul of it belongs to Esteban Andres Cruz as Angel. His dirty glamour and puppy-dog playfulness is the stuff drag-dreams are made of. There is also some really solid ensemble work, specifically from Steve Tomlitz and Karla Beard, whose dulcet vocals give “Seasons of Love” an unexpected tenderness.

People who love Rent will love this production. It’s heartbreaking. People who hate Rent will probably love this production. It’s nothing like what you’re expecting. People who don’t know anything about Rent most likely aren’t reading this blog…but if they are, y’all should know that THIS is the Rent to see. I think that about covers it.

Rent is playing through June 17 at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron Street, Chicago.

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