‘Rent’ comes to Cleveland

Tribune Chronicle

“Rent” is a show about youth, people fresh out of college (and younger) trying to find their way in the world and deciding how they want to respond to the demands of society.

That gets lost sometimes, maybe because the actors were approaching their mid-30s when they reprised their roles in the 2005 film version or even older when they returned to the Broadway production.

The 20th anniversary tour of “Rent” assembles a cast that in some cases is even younger than Idina Menzel, Jesse L. Martin, Taye Diggs, Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal and others were in their breakout roles.

Lyndie Moe was in her freshman year at Rider University when she decided on a lark a year ago to join some classmates who were going to an open casting call for the tour. After long waits and multiple callbacks, Moe was cast as Maureen in the production that comes to Cleveland’s Connor Palace for a three-week run beginning Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t have known about it if they hadn’t told me,” Moe said during a telephone interview from Atlanta. “I’m very thankful for that.”

Moe has been singing and performing most of her life (you can find a clip on YouTube of her playing Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” in eighth grade and singing “Part of Your World”), but the rigors of touring and doing eight shows are week were new experiences.

“I had absolutely no idea what it would be like,” she said. “After high school, going to college for a year was a completely different lifestyle and I was just getting used to that when I got this tour.”

“Rent” is one of the most beloved musicals of the last 25 years, winning four Tony Awards, including best musical, and the Pulitzer Prize. It has a passionate fanbase, and a testament to its popularity is that the 20th anniversary tour still is on the road when that anniversary was in 2016.

Moe said her first exposure to “Rent” was seeing the movie at a sleepover in fifth grade — maybe a little young for a story that deals with AIDS, heroin addiction and other adult topics. The only time she saw it live before being a cast was a high school production.

“I knew at that moment I wanted to play Maureen,” Moe said. “I saw what a great character she could be. I saw myself in that character.”

The 20th anniversary tour reunites much of the original Broadway creative team with director Evan Ensign staging the work based on the original direction by Michael Greif. The approach is reverent to the original, Moe said, while still allowing her to bring “a little bit of Lyndie” to the role originated by Menzel.

Moe also has been reminded of the timelessness of the material watching the student-led protests in the wake of the school shooting last month in Parkland, Fla.

“I’m loving all these kids speaking out, not being silent,” she said. “The characters in ‘Rent’ haven’t been through a mass shooting, but they are going through the AIDS epidemic, which was just as terrible in that time period. The AIDS epidemic was taking people out and they were speaking up. I feel younger people speaking up is super important.”