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Playhouse Square production of ‘RENT’ tears at the heart strings

It is Christmas Eve, 1995 in Manhattan’s East Village and the AIDS epidemic is in full swing with no end in sight. It has crossed over from the gay community into the drug addicts and into the heterosexual community. No one is safe from the scourge. A family of sorts lives together in an unheated loft of what was once a music publishing company. Although not related by blood these eight central characters have a deeper appreciation for life and each other than most families. This is the story behind Jonathan Larson’s RENT now on stage in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square during its 20th Anniversary Tour.

Roger Davis (Logan Farine) is a musician and recovering drug addict whose last girl friend committed suicide when she found that they both were HIV positive. Mark Cohen (Sammy Ferber) is a filmmaker and technical genius whose girlfriend left him for another woman. Tom Collins (Josh Walker) is a bisexual anarchist Ivy League professor who supplements his income by rigging ATM machines.

Benjamin Coffin III use to live with Roger and Mark but through a lucky marriage to wealth now owns the very building and adjoining parking lot where a tent city of homeless has sprung up. He wants the lot cleared for a hi-tech cyber arts studio and has threatened the building’s occupants if they do not help him. The only problem is that Avant Guarde artist Maureen Johnson (Lyndie Moe) plans to perform some protest art to bring light to the plight of the squatters that is to be filmed by Mark with the help of her attorney lover Joanne Jefferson (Jasmine Easler).

Exotic dancer Mimi Marquez (Destiny Diamond) finds Roger alone in the loft when she stops by to see if he has any matches to light her candle while constantly blowing out the flame as an excuse to stay longer. She is also HIV positive and a drug addict but keeps that news from Roger. Lastly, there is Angel Schunard (Aaron Alcaraz) who is the glue that holds the group together. He rescues and cares for Tom who is mugged as he was coming to the loft. Angel is a transvestite who is also HIV positive.

Through a series of 31 songs and choreographed numbers a story of devotion, love, family, heartache and death are played out on stage in vibrant fashion. Each character is a genius in their own right who simply needs to discover their talent to share with the world. It takes a painful death to drive them all apart and a near death to bring them all back together.

With the huge amount of material in this nearly operatic work each principle gets to shine numerous times on stage while backed by an astounding harmony of back-up voices. There are show stopper after show stopper each one being given appropriate applause by the appreciative audience.

This show delves into very mature subject matter s well as quite a bit of adult language thus would not be deemed suitable for young children.

The 20th Anniversary Tour production of RENT is aptly directed by Evan Ensign with wonderful choreography by Marlies Yearby as well as superb lighting by Jonathan Spencer and sound design by Keith Caggiano. Costuming is the design of Angela Wendt and the truly spectacular set design is the brain child of Paul Clay.

The terrific orchestra is made up of Matthew Demaria, Conductor and Keyboards; Paul O’Keefe, Assistant Conductor/keyboards/guitar; Guitar, David Malachowski; Bass, Ian Young and Drums, Jeff Snider.

RENT was groundbreaking when it first hit Broadway after years of rewrites and theater shops but with this cast it still truly grabs your emotions and will not let go even after 20 years of touring. Your emotions run the full gambit as the story unfolds. Sure to be another Playhouse Square sellout.

The Playhouse Square production of RENT will be on stage in the Connor Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square through March 25, 2018. For tickets on line go to or by phone call (216) 241-6000 or stop by the Playhouse Square Box Office located in the outer lobby of the Key Bank State Theatre.

Also, a special shout-out to Nick Soike (managing partner) and his crew from The Capital Grille whose sumptuous repast of lobster mac and cheese and New York Strip Kona Coffee Rub at the pre-show gathering took the chill out of the bones of the grateful members of the media covering the opening. Cheers!

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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