It can be easy to remember RENT as the story of Roger and Mark. Perhaps because of the Hamlet/Horatio dynamic in their relationship or the celebrity status earned by Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, but their friendship serves as the shell of this rock opera based on Puccini's La Boheme.
But it's the other relationships that electrify Theatre Arlington's production of RENT, on stage through September 30. The pairings of Major Attaway and Angel Velasco as Collins and Angel, along with Courtney Sikora and Melissa McMillian as Maureen and Joanne, capture the passion and the raw energy that drives this show.
This is the story of a community struggling to survive in Manhattan's Lower East Side, under the pressure of the eponymous need for money and the everyday presence of AIDS. Written by Jonathan Larson in the 1990's, this play won the 1996 Tony award and Pulitzer Prize and has been lauded for its honesty.
Director Andy Baldwin allows the world to be gritty-the characters shove each other around and Roger (Shane Allen) and Mimi (Stephanie Fischer) claw at each other in their love ballad "I Should Tell You." And the casting of these two adds an oddly current feel to the otherwise 90's grunge aesthetic. Allen's vocal tremors ring with a Latin flavor akin to Enrique Iglesias, while Fischer's silky voice, doe eyes and slender frame somehow attach unstated Daddy Problems to her vices, a trope recognizable in today's psychology.
And it's the previously mentioned couplings that offer a balance of heartwarming and heart-wrenching as their relationships develop. With pitch-perfect vocals, both Attaway and Velasco offer a compassionate affability as they sing their way through "I'll Cover You" and encourage their friends to attend life group with them. Sikora and McMillian deliver lines with humor and grace, and they both have the pipes to match.
The show's messages: "No Day But Today" and "Measure Your Life in Love" resound in this production. There's no doubt that many of the tears onstage are more than just an actor's device. And despite the broadening conversation about the issues this musical explores, there's no argument that the topic could be further plumbed. RENT hasn't lost its relevance yet.
Tickets are $22 ($17.50 for students) and are available online. RENT runs through September 30 at Theatre Arlington (305 W. Main Street, Arlington).