Theater review: 'Rent' -- 4 stars
The lively East Village social scene depicted in Jonathan Larson's "Rent," the first musical written for the MTV generation, is long gone. CBGB shut down five years ago. Starving artists are unlikely to find cheap or abandoned apartments in the East Village. Attitudes on AIDS have evolved.
But "Rent" hasn't changed: Hardly a single line or note has been altered. Yet even if "Rent" is now a period piece set in the early 1990s, it remains a gripping, joyous piece of theater.
This revival comes only three years after the Broadway production closed up shop following a 12-year run. It can now be found at Off-Broadway's New World Stages, which is already home to the former Broadway musicals "Avenue Q" and "Million Dollar Quartet."
Still, it's best to think of this production, which is again staged by Michael Greif, as a cosmetic overhaul and rejuvenation of the original instead of a completely new revival.
Although in a more intimate space than before, the production sports a high-tech, multi-level set design of metal cages and revolving platforms, along with new choreography and video footage and lighting.
Most important of all, the new cast is composed entirely of young, unknown performers, just like the original cast back in 1996. (By the end of the show's run, actors in their late 30s were regularly being cast.)
Even if the new cast members lack some of their predecessors' idiosyncratic touches, they bring their own unique takes to the characters and approach the material with intensity and incredible vocals.
Adam Chanler-Beret, for instance, portrays Mark in a giddy, upbeat vein that is completely different from Anthony Rapp's tense jumpiness. Similarly, Annaleigh Ashford chooses to play up Maureen's ditzy nature and pampered personality.
Matt Shingledecker makes a full dramatic progression as guitarist Roger, starting out downbeat and depressed and growing into violent emotion thanks to Mimi, played with both sweetness and sexiness by Arianda Fernandez.
If you go: "Rent" plays an open run at New World Stages. 340 W. 50th St., 212-947-8844, siteforrent.com.