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Rock musician Roger (Matt Shingledecker, left) and his filmmaker roommate Mark (Adam Chanler-Berat) set the scene for Michael Greif's explosive new production of Rent in the opening number, ''Tune Up #1.'' In the revival, Greif uses onstage video screens to give audiences a firsthand look at Mark's filmmaking.
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Landlord Benny (Ephraim Sykes, far right) drops in on his palpably hostile former roommates Collins (Nicholas Christopher, second from left), Roger (Shingledecker) and Mark (Chanler-Berat) and their new friend Angel (MJ Rodriguez, far left). In this production, Greif says, he wanted to more specifically distinguish which scenes were outdoors and which were indoors. ''We did very well in the loft,'' he says, ''but there a couple of places when we went outside that I felt the audience could use some help in understanding where we were and what we were doing.''
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Sparks fly as Maureen (Annaleigh Ashford, left) and her partner Joanne (Corbin Reid) heat things up in their breakup duet ''Take Me Or Leave Me.'' ''When I'm casting I'm looking for actors who I believe can unite with the characters' essences,'' Greif explains. ''And then chemistry follows.''
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Roger (Shingledecker) hoists his on-again, off-again lover Mimi Márquez (Arianda Fernandez) into the air during ''Happy New Year.'' Though Roger and Mimi's love story is a famous and beloved one for Broadway fans, Greif encouraged all the actors to bring something of themselves to their roles. ''I told them ... to bring a lot of themselves to these roles and to feel great freedom in the way they create them,'' says Greif. ''And not necessarily to repeat what's been done before.''
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Though the New World Stages' production of ''Rent'' uses a smaller stage, its set design brings back elements of the original Broadway production's clean, stark, minimalist set, as well as its signature use of vertical space. ''We've lost a little depth, I'm afraid,'' laughs Greif, ''but I hope that's only spatial depth and not any content depth. Mark [Wendland, the set designer] succeeded very beautifully in creating illusions of depth.''
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Ten members of the 14-person cast close out Act I with a rousing rendition of ''La Vie Bohéme,' the show's ode to the starving-artist lifestyle of the early-'90s East Village. 'What these actors showed me is that, either because of who they are or through their craft, they ... really understand the souls of their characters,'' Greif says.