I had the pleasure to see RENT at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday. Being my first time to the bowl, I was really excited. RENT is a wonderful musical with a message that affects everyone on a global level. The storyline is exquisite and the music stays in your head for weeks.
As a 20-something trying to make it out here in Los Angeles, it was an uplifting experience. However, being a RENT-head, I had very high expectations for the performance. I didn’t care that it was opening night — these performers had better bring their A-game.
I went to the show knowing Neil Patrick Harris, who originated the role of Mark on Broadway, was directing. Bonus points for that. I also knew that there were going to be a lot of big names bringing their presence to the stage: Wayne Brady as Collins, Nicole Scherzinger as Maureen, Tracie Thoms (Joanne), and Vanessa Hudgens (Mimi). I was a little skeptical going in, just as anyone else would be.
The show began and while there were a few technical difficulties, it started off strong. Skylar Astin, who played Mark, was solid. Skylar originated the role of Georg in Spring Awakening, so he has the chops to pull off a live musical. A pleasant surprise? Aaron Tveitt, who has a voice of an angel. He played Roger — there was not one woman in the place not swooning for him. Aaron is no stranger to Broadway, having performed in greats like Hairspray and Wicked in addition to touring with RENT.
Anyone who is reading my post on this show wants to know: how was Vanessa Hudgens? I forgot everything I knew about her and tried to focus on her performance. Her first step on the stage was for “Light My Candle,” a duet with Roger. Sadly, I couldn’t believe her to be a crack-addicted prostitute with AIDS. It wasn’t working for me. Seeing her attempt to snort cocaine seemed a little contrived and everyone around us had the same opinion: she wasn’t doing the part of Mimi any justice. While her voice sounds beautiful when she belts, it left more to be desired when simply singing the fun songs. “Out Tonight” is one of the best numbers and I hate to say that I felt embarrassed watching her gallivant around the stage in liquid leggings and bra. I felt like this was her chance to prove herself as a real performer, but really what it felt like was an attempt to make people forget she was ever in High School Musical and was now a “bigger, badder” type of gal. I wasn’t buying it.
I was equally skeptical of Nicole Scherzinger, however I knew she could sing because I’ve seen her live in concert. Filling Idina Menzel’s shoes is not an easy feat. Maureen, the character Nicole portrays in the show, sings two of the greatest and more theatrical numbers in the musical: “Take Me or Leave Me” and “Over the Moon.” She killed it. We weren’t watching Nicole from the Pussycat Dolls, we were watching Maureen protest and Maureen fight with her girlfriend. She was an unexpected surprise and stole the entire show.
I love Wayne Brady because of his comedic timing, but I can say that I didn’t feel like he was the strongest casting choice for Collins. It appeared that the tone of the songs he was singing was too low for his range, which didn’t allow him to really belt anything out.
Telly Leung was exactly what people expected out of Angel: fun and vibrant. He absolutely rocked his performance and really fulfilled the role of Angel to everyone’s contentment.
Congrats to Neil Patrick Harris of a great ensemble and for bringing the show to life. I heard that Friday night’s performance was the first night the entire show was run through with the orchestra, lights, etc. With that being said, the show was still entertaining and ran smoothly.