Yes, Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer-winning musical Disneyfies the mid-80s downtown arts scene, dressing everyone alike--struggling artists, drug addicts, even the homeless--in chic boho clothing. And yes, the play heterosexualizes the AIDS epidemic, making us care more about the straight HIV-positive couple at the center of the story than the sexless but sweet gay couple. Yes, Larson's rock score sounds about 15 years behind the times, the filmmaker-narrator clearly doesn't know how to operate a Bolex movie camera, and the play ends with a kitschy miracle right out of E.T.--a slap in the face to anyone who's had a friend or lover die of AIDS. But once you accept that what you're getting with Rent is not a documentary but a high-energy rock-opera fantasy loosely based on New York's late lamented downtown arts scene, you can see the show's strengths. In Michael Greif's brilliant staging, spectacle-filled performance art meets Bertolt Brecht. Larson's somewhat dated score is still rich and rousing, effectively translating the world of Puccini's La boheme to contemporary New York. Larson's characters likewise seem very real--even if the situations they find themselves in do not. Most impressive, though, is how the energetic, dedicated cast of singer-dancer-actors makes the show soar. Scott Hunt is every inch the likable ne'er-do-well filmmaker, Julia Santana generates considerable heat as Mimi, and Pierre Angelo Bayuga steals the show as the fiery, sexy, sweet transvestite Angel. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 312-902-1500. Through October 10: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 and 7:30 PM. $25-$70; day-of-show rush discounts available. --Jack Helbig
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus.