Rent is probably my favorite Broadway musical, and while the 2005 movie took its own liberties, I was able to attribute those to making a play into a film and it found a nice little place in my heart as well. While this version had some outstanding moments, I felt as though some things were unnecessarily changed and some performances lacked in what could have been a fantastic rebirth of this phenomenon to an entire new generation. I'll start with the performances, in no particular order.
Mario as Benjamin Coffin III: While I have always liked Mario as an R&B artist, something about his performance fell flat with me here. It's not that he did anything wrong per say, but I just didn't feel like he connected with the rest of the cast. Benny is our "villain", but sympathetic and still loveable. I didn't get that here, he just felt distant and disconnected from the rest of the characters; even more so than the 2005 movie where the character wasn't fleshed out as much.Vanessa Hudgens as Maureen Johnson: I didn't know a lot about Vanessa going into this. I was "too old" by the time she was a Disney star, and while I've heard of her from my younger coworkers, I hadn't really paid attention to her work. I will say, though, WOW!. She did a fantastic job. I'd be hard pressed to remember a scene I didn't enjoy her in. Her vocals were on point (especially during Over the Moon and Take Me or Leave Me) as was her acting. She was definitely a standout of this production.Jordan Fisher as Mark Cohen: I loved Jordan. Let me repeat that, I loved Jordan. Maybe too much. While I think his performance was strong, I almost think he was TOO good. He was just so "smooth" for a lack of a better word. There was none of the awkwardness and self-doubting that you usually get from Mark. I don't think Jordan did anything wrong; his vocals were great, his acting was phenomenal, and when time came to emote, he delivered on point, but especially during La Vie Boheme he was just SO SMOOTH.Brennin Hunt as Roger Davis: Brennin was, without a doubt, one of my favorites. I know, the dumbass broke his foot the night before opening and ruined the whole "live" experience by making us watch a prerecorded dress rehearsal, but I still think he was one of the best. He emitted everything about Roger, and save a couple of possible blocking issues, I don't think it could have been done better had it gone live. His vocals were awesome, his presence was fantastic, and overall, I was very please with how he portrayed Roger.Kiersey Clemons as Joanne Jefferson: I think Kiersey also did a wonderful job. Honestly my only question with her performance is I wonder if she could have done it better live. I felt like she let the other cast overshadow her a bit in some of her scenes, so I'm wondering if she was saving the "strong" performance for the live one. Nothing to complain about with her.Tinashe as Mimi Marquez: She was fantastic; I expected more. Tinashe's performance is a bit of a double-edged sword. I already know she's a talented vocal artist, yet some of her vocals left me disappointed. Her acting was there, but I didn't feel the emotions at times. "Light My Candle" was AMAZING as was Out Tonight, but then I felt she fell short on numbers such as Without You and Another Day, both on vocals and emotion. I don't know if she was saving up for the live show, but I was pleased and disappointed at the same time.Brandon Victor Dixon as Tom Collins: I think Brandon was another standout performance. Short of having Jesse L. Martin come back to play this role, I don't think anyone could have done it better. Everything was there; the acting, the vocals, the emotions. Fantastic job.James Leyva/Valentina as Angel Dumott Schunard: It looks as though I saved the worst for last, though that wasn't my intention. I think Valentina's performance fell completely short compared to everyone else's. The vocals weren't there, the acting was flat, and I was just left wanting something better. The character of Angel is so full of life and energy and hope, and I didn't see any of that in this performance. I do know that some of Angel's numbers are quite demanding (Today 4 U) and possible were being saved up for the live show, but after several repeat views the pitch was all over the place and I just don't think the talent was tied down when casting. I blame this on production for trying to cast someone relevant to draw a crowd when they should have focused on the talent needed to carry that character.Beyond that, lyric changes were my biggest complaint. The ensemble cast did a fantastic job, and Keala Settle was a fantastic addition in her many roles! The highlight of the entire thing of course, was seeing the original cast at the end of the show. I heard rumor that Tracie Thoms and Rosario Dawson were there as well, would have liked to have seen them if they were, perhaps along side Fredi Walker and Daphne Rubin-Vega.