REVIEW: ‘La Vie Boheme’ lives on in Hollywood

The cast of RENT all standing with their fists in the air, some on a table in the center of the stage.
“RENT,” a musical drama created by Jonathan Larson, takes place in bohemian New York’s LGBTQIA+ community amid the AIDS epidemic of the ‘90s, but is just as relevant today during its “Broadway Farewell Tour.” (Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg, Creative Commons)

Bohemia is not dead; in fact, it lives on 25 years later. The “Farewell Tour” of the Broadway musical “RENT” made its way to Hollywood Boulevard this past weekend at the Dolby Theatre, reminding long standing and new fans why this Jonathan Larson classic is so beloved. 

Many of the cast members reprised their roles for this tour, including the one and only Angel played by Javon King who quite literally stole the show. King had played Angel on the 20th anniversary tour, and it’s no secret why he was asked to come back five years later. From her introduction in “Today For You,” Angel, a New York drag queen living with AIDS, lights up the stage with her song and dance in a Santa Claus costume singing “Today for you, tomorrow for me.”

Her solo emulated the original dance, jumping off tables, spinning in chairs and, of course, showcasing the six-inch heels. 

Angel’s musical partner and lover Tom Collins (Shafiq Hicks) also stole the show with his solo in the second act, “I’ll Cover You (Reprise).” Collins’ emotional performance after Angel’s death left a piercing pain throughout the theatre, the final note emulating the cry of grief. 

It’s no secret that the Collins and Angel love affair took center stage with beautiful ballads and their emotional connection of a “Queen” and “Moat.” It highlights why this musical in particular was so revolutionary. Not only does the diverse cast show different walks of life, it also shows various LGBTQIA+ relationships and humanizes the AIDS pandemic that disproportionately affected marginalized communities. 

Two actors on stage during a performance, the female holding the male in a sort of dance dip, the man looking out at the audience awkwardly.
(Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg, Creative Commons)

Aiyana Smash debuted as Mimi  — a nickname I have adopted from the musical — five years ago. During the tour, she’s continued to keep the character’s spirit more than alive with solos “Out Tonight” and crowd favorite “Without You.” Both of these songs showcased Smash’s dynamism and versatility through playing an energetic 19-year-old who longs to go out and live life while  coping with addiction and an AIDS diagnosis.

“Without You,” featuring Angel in the hospital and Mimi falling into addiction once again after her falling out with Roger, specifically showcases the reality of the AIDS epidemic as this scene unfolds. 

Roger, played by Coleman Cummings, is the angsty, depressed rock artist who is overtaken by his past lover’s suicide and his own illness. Cummings does a good job of reprising the role of this beloved artist. One of the most notable artistic moments of the first act was the decision to have Roger play guitar in the background on stage as his friends went on with their lives to emulate how life went on around him. Often antisocial to a fault, Roger showcased the duality of life and death while maintaining a lighthearted drama-queen persona, the only bigger drama queen being Maureen. 

Maureen’s shoes are big ones to fill, ones Lyndie Moe has been in for two years. Originally played by Broadway queen Idina Menzel, the riffs and notes of this artist are difficult to hit and are often compromised. That was the case for Moe, who fell a bit flat playing this iconic character.

The tonality of “Take Me or Leave Me” was sung at an octave lower than the original, and the classic “Over the Moon” did not feel as funny as Menzel’s original as experienced from the movie adaptation. Despite the performance shortcomings while playing Maureen, it was still enjoyable to hear the auditorium “moo” at Moe at the end of the scene. 

Her snobby and, according to Maureen, “over attentive” duet partner, Joanne (Rayla Garske) was beautifully reprised and showcased the common struggles of women loving women relationships: tackling love with balance and patience. Emulating the stereotype of the “U-Haul” lesbians, the duo is both comedic and bring to the limelight a relationship that is often fetishized or misrepresented in an accurate manner. 

Although the musical deals with tough issues of death, “RENT” is ultimately about life. Mark, played by J.T. Wood, is a reminder that people live on in memories (and in film) and moments that they spend together will forever be a testament of their love. Playing Mark for the first time, Wood captured the awkward, yet distressed, artist who will be the only one who lives on from the cast as the rest will likely die from AIDS. Despite this sad reality and Angel’s death, the musical ends on a happy note with the revival of Mimi.

“To no absolutes, to choice,” Mark sang. “To being an us for once … instead of a them.” 

“RENT” paints a picture of the diverse manifestations of love and shows that one can have a fulfilled, happy life despite challenges of circumstance and loss. For this reason, Bohemia will forever live on even after the curtains close and the show’s retirement from Broadway.