Last Friday night the weather outside was just like that last scene in "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" when Warren Beatty freezes to death in the blizzard about three feet from Mrs. Miller's porch. But inside Syracuse Stage, things were sizzling on the opening night of "Rent."
Based on Giacomo Puccini's enduring and beloved "La boh me" and opening on Broadway exactly a century later in 1996, Jonathan Larson's rock opera "Rent" quickly moved to a larger theatre and ran for twelve years - that's 5, 124 performances - as well as winning the Pulitzer Prize for best drama and four Tony Awards. "Rent" went of to international tours and countless regional productions. Larson's work updated Puccini's impoverished Parisian intellectuals, artists, cabaret entertainers and Eastern European political refugees to modern counterparts in the late 1980s in New York City's East Village. Tuberculosis, the wasting disease of poverty and the moral fringes in mid-19th century Paris, is replaced with the modern scourge and stigma of AIDS. Puccini's painter is now the Scarsdale refugee Mark, a film-maker; the poet reappears as the despairing HIV+ guitarist Roger; a city bureaucrat is now the lawyer Joanne - and so on.
Spoiler alert: this is a rave review. But first, let's back up a little. In 2005 the Broadway production's enormous success spawned a movie directed by Chris Columbus and featuring most of the principals in the Broadway cast. Besides Syracuse University drama alum Taye Diggs as the seemingly rapacious landlord Benny (there's a nice interview with him in Syracuse Stage's current issue of "Stage View," available at performances), that included Idina Menzel as smoldering performance artist Maureen and Jesse L. Martin (Detective Ed Green in all four iterations of the TV series "Law and Order") as Tom Collins. New actors were cast in just two of the principal roles for the film: Tracie Thoms (you might know her from "Cold Case") got the part of Maureen's lawyer/lover Joanne, and Rosario Dawson (considerably better known now that she was) became Mimi. Yes, it begins to dawn on you: in real life, there are some amazing singers and dancers who are paying their rent by playing detectives on television.