By Nick Manix

    RENT is the kind of musical that you either love or hate.  It was groundbreaking when it opened in 1996, and went on to win four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
    The production also paved the way for American musical theatre to once again make an
impact without having to rely on shows from London.  Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and Evita were originally staged on London's West End before crossing the Atlantic. RENT gave Broadway something to brag about - something it hadn't really done since Chicago, Cabaret and A Chorus Line in the 1970s.
   When RENT closed 12 years later in 2008, it had run its course, having been set in New York City in 1989 and revolving around a group of artists trying to make something of themselves while surrounded by poverty, drugs and AIDS.  Starting in 1998, London attempted to produce the musical culminating with the disastrous RENT Remixed in 2007.  And although popular in other countries, RENT was a bomb in London.  One review stated "They call this RENT Remixed. I'd dub it RENT Reduced …while never a great musical, [it] has been turned into a grisly, synthetic, pseudo pop concert with no particular roots or identity."
    America could smile again. We had a musical that was all ours - and London was jealous.
   Now Austin's ZACH Theatre has taken on the musical and has adapted it in such a way that it still feels new.  There are a few changes to the lyrics - especially noticeable during
Mimi's big number "Out Tonight" - and some to the costumes. While fresh and exciting, it was also a slight letdown not to see Angel in her Christmas outfit or iconic newspaper dress - or Maureen in her cat suit or Mark with his trademark scarf and sweater.
     Still, Ginger Leigh as "Maureen" and Andrew Cannata as Mark" were spot on with all they did. There wasn't a note, movement or facial expression they made that didn't make me smile.  And Karma Stewart's rendition of "Without You" as "Mimi" was beautifully sung and extremely emotional.
     Roderick Sanford's amazing deep baritone voice resonated throughout the theatre as "Collins," and you could feel his power in your very bones. During the second act, when he belted out "I'll Follow You," you felt his pain and despair.  John Pointer, as the tormented "Roger," was phenomenal with his recording single-worthy version of "Your Eyes."  
     With a few noticeable glitches and missteps that can be seen as nothing more than opening night jitters - the performance I attended was actually the second complete performance in front of a packed house -ZACH Theatre has another hit on their hands with RENT. They've changed it just enough to make it new, but left enough intact to remind us that, in 1996, something special took place in American theatre - and that RENT will go down in history as groundbreaking.  ZACH Theatre's production can now be added to the list of what made the show so special in the first place.

     Performances run Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.  Tickets range from $20 to $57, with $15 tickets available to students starting one hour prior to curtain time.
    ZACH Theatre's Kleberg Stage is located at 1421 W. Riverside Drive, on the corner of Riverside Drive and South Lamar.  For more information and reservations, call (512) 476-
0541, ext. 1, or visit

(Photos by Kirk R. Tuck - from top:
- Ginger Leigh as “Maureen”
- Karma Stewart as “Mimi” and
  Joshua Denning as ”Angel”
- Roderick Sanford as “Collins”
- John Pointer as “Roger” and
  Andrew Cannata as “Mark”)
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