Andrews Living Arts stages musical "Rent" outside

The cast of "Rent" at Andrews Living Arts. Photo by Joseph O'Neill

Just when you are thinking about giving up on Andrews Living Arts Studio’s production of “Rent,” one of the singers comes on and just rocks it … rocks it hard.

And that keeps you plugged in to this somewhat wobbly, occasionally self-conscious and often delightfully reckless staging of Jonathan Larson’s masterwork, which takes Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” from Paris’ Latin Quarter in the 1840s and plops it down in New York’s Lower East Side in the late 1990s.

Here, director and designer Robert D. Nation has assembled a high-wattage cast, capable of overcoming buzzy microphones that frequently render their dialogue way too close to the sound of a high-school principal making morning announcements. Yes, they look down at their feet whenever they are called upon to dance, and a few drop character when standing on the sidelines. But this production has a wondrous remedy for all that: Downtown Fort Lauderdale is the urban backdrop for this show, which is staged outdoors.

The al fresco set, surrounded by graffiti murals by Rolling Stock Gallery and with “fire escape” steps going up to the roof of the studio, where the industrial-style Avenue Lofts condos provide a backdrop, give this version just the right vibe to fit the story of young, broke artists trying to create and find love while fighting off the ravages of addiction and AIDS.


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Two casts share 13 of the 14 roles. I can only speak to the talents of the red cast, in which L’Oreal Joiner as Mimi, James Lott as Mark, Daniel Nohrden as Roger and Jessica McFadden as Maureen kept lifting whenever this version tended to fall flat. (Nohrden can soar and Joiner can roar.)

It’s a somewhat safe bet that no matter the cast, what you get for roughly two hours with a 10-minute intermission is Larson’s Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning score under the stars and moon with police helicopter lights flickering above and noisy traffic whizzing nearby. It’s wonky and weird. And it seems kinda right.

“Rent” is scheduled to run through June 16 at Andrew Living Arts Studio, 23 NW Fifth St., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays (there is a 5 p.m. special indoor performance Saturday, May 25 for the F.A.T. Village Art Walk). Tickets cost $29.95 for adults, $24.95 for seniors and $19.95 for students. Call 800-838-3006 or go to AndrewsLivingArts.com.