Rent, now at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, is an unlikely holiday show, with its themes of struggle, poverty and death. But the year-in-the-life of this group of young artists and musicians does take place between two Christmases. And there are heartwarming themes of friendship, creativity and – the title of the show’s best-known song – “Seasons of Love.”
The story, loosely based on the Puccini opera La Boheme, follows Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, and roommate Roger, a rock musician who is HIV positive. Their circle of friends includes Mark’s former lover, Maureen; transvestite Angel, and Mimi, who struggles with drug addiction.
Incline Theater’s version of the rock musical from the late 1990s is energized by an overall strong cast of 15 young singer-actors with a depth of talent; even those playing minor roles are impressive in their brief solos. The back-up band also is quite good, conducted by musical director Michael Kennedy.
The most polished cast member is Kelcey Steele as Mark, the same role he played in a fine production of Rent at Miami University a few years ago. Mark is the narrator who guides us through the story, introducing each of the other characters, always filming the action. He sets himself apart for the most part, an observer like we are, as he contemplates “selling out” for a job.
There is a powerful performance from Tyler Kuhlman as Roger. Especially poignant is the duet “Without You” performed with Lisa Glover as Mimi. Glover is at her best in the quieter songs; the showy “Out Tonight” seemed beyond her vocal skills, although her sexy dance routine elevates the number.
We hear about Maureen, the performance artist, long before she takes the stage late in the first act. Part of the advance warning is a great performance of “Tango Maureen,” sung and danced by former lover Mark and current lover Joanne (Allison Muennich).
Even with all the buildup, Aiden Sims as Maureen does not disappoint. Sims’ version of Maureen’s performance art piece, “Over the Moon,” is the best I have ever seen.
Also notable is the first act closer, “La Vie Boheme,” with all the characters lined up on one side of the table, reminiscent of a painting of the Last Supper.
Overall, the choreography by Matthew Wilson, who also directed, is very fine, helped by an athletic young cast.
Kudos to set designer Brett Bowling, who created the multi-level set and filled it with pieces that reflect the 1990s, including the now-archaic pay phone.
Rent continues Wednesdays-Sundays through Dec. 20. For tickets, call 513-241-6550.