We saw the Hollywood Bowl Spectacular production of RENT last night, and were more than pleasantly surprised.
Telly Leung as Angel and Wayne Brady as Tom were the most convincing combo in these two roles I’ve yet seen. And their acting was more than matched by their singing. Brady’s voice is a full, rumbling cello of an instrument, and Leung hits notes of such soaring power they’re almost shocking.
Nicole Scherzinger (lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls) as Maureen is beautiful, hilarious, with sure comic timing, gorgeous dance moves (The Tango Maureen is stunning), a knockout voice and tremendous stage presence. The talented Tracie Thoms, a veteran of the production, does a solid job reprising her role, but there’s nothing revelatory. I liked her in the movie version, and I liked her here.
Skylar Astin’s Mark is beautifully handled. He sells the character in a way I have not seen before. You really “get” who Mark is — it’s the first time I’ve seen him as a person rather than a story vehicle and an observer. His voice is sensational as well.
Weak links? Aaron Tveit as Roger is just pleasant, nothing more. Roger needs some raw rock ‘n’ roll cred, and he doesn’t have it. He’s all handsome face and smooth voice with no grit. And then there’s Vanessa Hudgens, who’s totally miscast. Her prettiness, her girl-next-door innocence and general “healthiness” are antithetical to the skinny, sexy, hard-edged junkie waif that Mimi should be. I never believed her for a second, and her voice failed to punch through the orchestrations. She tries hard, but it feels like watching an early episode of American Idol. Too gentle. Too nice.
Overall, I think Neil Patrick Harris did an admirable job of making the show work in this enormous venue. His deep familiarity with RENT pays off with brilliant little touches that give us emotional access to the characters despite the physical distance. There are even some great intimate moments where he’s working the huge TV monitors that let you really see the actors’ faces. At this huge scale, I think those close-up glimpses are critical to maintain contact with the audience. Smart use of the whole space and supporting systems.
All in all, we truly enjoyed the show. Check it out if you can.