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Thursday, July 13, 2006 | “Rent,” created by Jonathan Larson, is loosely based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” which ends in tragedy. Although not completely tragic, “Rent” packs an emotional punch nonetheless.

Centered on a group of starving-artists in the East Village of New York City, the story begins in the freezing loft of Mark and Roger on Christmas Eve.

Tuesday night was the San Diego opening of this tour and it started off a little bumpy. The band’s sound was nice and loud, but it overpowered the singers at times. There was a little bit of nervousness apparent in Mark’s (Jed Resnick) singing and there were some crackles coming from several of the headsets worn by the cast. With some great audience support, the jitters lifted and Resnick’s singing became much cleaner and stronger. But then, just in time for some serious Roger (Bryce Ryness) stage-time, his headset started giving out.

You could sense the tension as the audience worried that Ryness’ headset would completely shut down, leaving him without a mic for the crowd favorites “One Song Glory” or “Light My Candle.” Deftly, Ryness grabbed a free-standing microphone and used it through the series of numbers before his character went off-stage and switched headsets. I have never seen a guy manage to maintain looking so cool with a hand-held mic, and Ryness totally pulled it off. Both Ryness and Resnick were great in their roles, sang strongly and completely filled the shoes of their now well-known (the motion picture of “Rent” was released earlier this year) predecessors.

Once those minor bumps were ironed out, the show continued on with a great momentum. The audience was completely receptive, many obviously having seen the show before and enthusing at all the right times.

The show has more than 30 numbers and covers some hefty adult themes of sex, drugs, AIDS, addiction, homelessness and junkies. I saw the Benny Tour of “Rent” in conservative Charlotte, North Carolina, and many audience members walked out. The characters are anti-capitalism, anti-authority and full of heart. And that’s what you really walk away with. The starving artists of bohemia struggle, but they struggle together. Many of the characters are living with HIV and songs and scenes take place in support groups.

Among the numbers, there were many standouts. Mimi’s deliciously feisty “Out Tonight” calls for some cat-like agility and dancing, and she managed beautifully. Drag queen and percussionist Angel (Ano Okera) kept the audience moving in their seats during “Today 4 U.” Maureen’s (Tracy McDowell) purposely over-the-top protest performance was an audience favorite. Fans were only too happy to oblige Maureen with her requested “Moos” (as in cow, you have to see it).

The cast was cohesive and on-point with all the quick steps and stage direction. The supporting swing members treated their roles like leads and they shined. It’s a truly entertaining show and one with emotional highs and lows that make it so beloved.

It should be noted that “Rent” has a loyal-following (affectionately called “Rentheads”) of fans who see the show at every opportunity. And every “Rent” performance offers the front row seat tickets at $20 in effort to give people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity a chance to see the show.

There’s also a lot of interesting back story about the Pulitzer Prize-and Tony Award-winning show. It took many years from the concept of “Rent” to its first performance. Sadly, Jonathon Larson died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm the day of the off-broadway premiere, a sobering, heart-wrenching fact that stays with both the casts and fans of “Rent.” The show is now the seventh longest running on Broadway, and tours like this one delight Rentheads and newbies alike, reminding us to live for no day but today.

“Rent” plays at the Civic Theatre through July 16.

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