A Powerful Revival: “Rent” at the Paper Mill Playhouse

by Tom Lavecchia
Paper Mill Playhouse Rent

The Paper Mill Playhouse’s recent production of the iconic musical “Rent” delivers an electrifying revival that captures the raw energy and poignant themes of the original while infusing it with a fresh and contemporary spirit. Directed by a visionary team and brought to life by an incredibly talented cast, this rendition of “Rent” is a testament to the enduring power of Jonathan Larson’s masterpiece.

From the moment the curtain rises, the audience is immersed in the gritty world of New York City’s East Village in the 1990s. The set design, with its industrial scaffolding and graffiti-covered walls, perfectly captures the bohemian atmosphere of the time. The lighting and sound design further enhance the production, creating an immersive and dynamic experience that transports the audience into the lives of the characters.

The cast of the Paper Mill Playhouse’s “Rent” is a true ensemble of exceptional performers. Each actor brings a unique depth and authenticity to their respective roles, ensuring that the audience forms a deep connection with the characters. The chemistry between actors is palpable, particularly during the iconic ensemble numbers that celebrate love, friendship, and the pursuit of dreams.

Rent at Paper Mill Playhouse

Credit: Paper Mill Playhouse, Alisa Melendez as Mimi Marquez

One standout performance comes from the talented actor portraying Mark Cohen (Zachary Noah Piser), the aspiring filmmaker and narrator of the story. His portrayal of Mark is nuanced and heartfelt, capturing the character’s idealism, wit, and underlying vulnerability. His renditions of “Tune Up” and “What You Own” are particularly powerful, showcasing his impressive vocal range and emotional depth.

Equally impressive is the actress portraying Mimi Marquez (Alisa Melendez), the troubled and captivating dancer. Her rendition of “Out Tonight” is a showstopper, infusing the song with a fierce energy and magnetic stage presence. Her chemistry with Roger (Matt Rodin), played by another remarkable actor, is undeniable, and their duets, such as “Light My Candle” and “Without You,” are filled with heart-wrenching emotion.

The ensemble as a whole is a force to be reckoned with. The energy they bring to the stage is infectious, and their harmonies are tight and flawless. Whether they are performing the rousing anthem “Seasons of Love” or the heartrending “Will I?,” the ensemble’s collective talent shines brightly, reminding us of the power of community and the strength found in unity.

Paper Mill Playhouse Millburn, NJ

Meg (NJ Digest), OliviaLux (Angel Schunard) and Joselin (NJ Digest) at the after party at Moonshine in Millburn, NJ

The direction of the production is masterful, maintaining the original spirit of “Rent” while injecting it with contemporary relevance. The themes of love, loss, and the fight against adversity resonate deeply in today’s world, and the director skillfully underscores these connections. By doing so, the production becomes not just a nostalgic tribute but a poignant reflection of our current times.

If there is any criticism to be made, it is that at times, the sound balance between the actors and the live band is slightly off, leading to occasional moments where the lyrics are difficult to discern. However, this minor flaw does little to dampen the overall impact of the show.

Millburn, NJ Rent

Meg (NJ Digest), Alisa Melendez (Mimi Marquez) and Joselin (NJ Digest) at the Rent after party at Moonshine in Millburn, NJ

Overall, the Paper Mill Playhouse’s revival of “Rent” is a triumph. With its exceptional cast, stunning production design, and powerful direction, it captures the essence of the original while breathing new life into the beloved musical. It serves as a timely reminder of the enduring relevance of Larson’s work and the timeless power of love, art, and human connection. This production is an absolute must-see for both long-time fans and those experiencing “Rent” for the first time.

Get your tickets here at the Paper Mill Box Office as Rent runs through July 2nd, 2023.

About the Author/s

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Tom is a lifelong New Jersey resident, Rutgers and FDU alumni and the publisher of The Digest.

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