Rent—based largely on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La BohÃ¨me, which goes to show that the trope of romanticized artistic poverty has been perpetuated by poor artists for centuries and they’re not about to stop—is a bona fide modern classic, daring in its day for the frank portrayal of addiction and HIV/AIDS in the artistic communities of New York City. That’s a lot for an up-and-coming company to take on—and it appears Utah Repertory Theater Company may not yet be up to the task.
This production just doesn’t hold together. The direction fails to adequately wrangle the upward of 20 bodies onstage at a time. The action lacks focus; critical lines and scenes aren’t given room to breathe and, as a result, important plot points are easily missed. This problem is exacerbated by the poor acoustics of the space, which result in the live band and the vocals being blended together into an indiscernible sludge above which only the drummer’s high-hat emerges. The primary impression one takes away is “muddled.”
The greatest victim of these circumstances is Austin Archer, playing protagonist Mark Cohen. His performance is exceptional; his singing and characterization are confident and consistent. Archer could easily hold his own in the role in a stronger overall production.
Utah Rep’s production of Rent has its moments, but they’re just not enough to compensate for its struggles. You’d be better served by continuing to sing along to the soundtrack in your car, and keeping an eye out for Archer in his next role.
UTAH REPERTORY THEATER COMPANY: RENT
258 W. 700 South
Through Oct. 6, $15-$18