Billed as a star package, headlined by “South African Idol” winner Heinz Winckler and “American Idol” finalist Anwar F. Robinson, the current Broadway Series South production of Jonathan Larson’s perennially popular 1996 rock musical Rent is a veritable supernova, with an expressive and highly energetic ensemble that makes the designated “stars” shine even brighter.
International heartthrob Heinz Winckler displays a big rock-star voice and impressive acting chops as reclusive HIV-positive rock singer, songwriter, and guitarist Roger Davis, who is drowning in a sea of depression when the curtain rises; and Anwar Robinson adds a charismatic characterization of Tom Collins, an irrepressibly upbeat gay philosophy professor living with AIDS.
Jed Resnick is terrific as Roger’s best friend and roommate, documentary filmmaker Mark Cohen; Jen Dalton is a regular ball of fire in sexy sky-blue spandex pants as HIV-positive exotic dancer Mimi Marquez; and Tim Ehrlich (subbing for Kristen-Alexzander Griffith) put a lump in the Tuesday-night audience’s throat with his amusing but ultimately poignant performance as Angel Dumott Schunard, a cross-dressing gay drummer with AIDS.
Christine Dwyer is a scream as supremely untalented bisexual performance artist Maureen Johnson; Onyie Nwachukwu is a pip as Maureen’s uptight girlfriend, feisty lesbian Civil Rights lawyer Joanne Jefferson; and John Watson is delightfully devious — a real charmer, but always with ulterior motives — as Mark and Roger’s nouveau riche landlord and former running buddy Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III.
Produced by OnTour, LLC and exuberantly staged with some fresh, new touches by director Michael Greif and associate director Evan Ensign, Rent is kinetically choreographed by Marlies Yearby and associate choreographer Yasmine Lee. The show also rattles the rafters at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium with a hard-rocking small — but often really loud — orchestra that includes conductor Jeremy Randall (keyboards), assistant conductor Sean Geiner (keyboards), Neal Johnson (guitar), Trevor Nelson (bass), and Marques Wells (drums).
The current tour of Rent also showcases the magnificent multilevel set design by Paul Clay (adapted for the tour by Matthew E. Maraffi), a laudable lighting design by Blake Burba, flashy costume designs by Angela Wendt and associate costume designer Lisa Zinni, and a sound design by Brian Ronan that needs some finetuning to make the dialogue and vocals more intelligible. Once again, Broadway Series South treats Triangle theatergoers to a grand and glorious Broadway show that, Tuesday night, drew cheers throughout and concluded to a rowdy rock-concert-style standing ovation.
Broadway Series South presents Rent Thursday-Friday, Nov. 8-9, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 10, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 11, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $26-$66. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565. Note: Arts Access, Inc., will audio-describe the 8 p.m. Nov. 10th performance. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. The Show: http://www.siteforrent.com/ (official web site) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=7448 (Internet Broadway Database). The Tour: http://www.siteforrent.com/tourschedule [inactive 11/10] . The Film: http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/rent/index.html (official web site) [inactive 3/10] and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0294870/ (Internet Movie Database). Jonathan Larson (unofficial site by Chris Matthias): http://members.tripod.com/~Swirsky/jonathan.html. Rent Webring: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/rent/webring/site/ [inactive 3/10]. Heinz Winckler: http://www.myspace.com/heinzwinckler [inactive 10/10] . Anwar F. Robinson: http://www.anwarriors.com/ and http://www.myspace.com/anwarrobinsonastomcollins.