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‘N Sync’s Joey Fatone Stars in ‘Rent’

September 4, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ So pop superstar Lance Bass won’t blast off to space, after all. Will fellow ’N Sync band mate, Joey Fatone, get any farther on Broadway, as the newest star of the hit musical ``Rent″?

For those who care, including a swarm of screaming teen-agers at Fatone’s recent opening at the Nederlander Theatre, the answer is probably not.

As a serious actor, Fatone shows promise but is still clearly feeling his way around the stage _ and light years from stardom. His role in ``Rent″ as Mark, the nerdy videographer who chronicles a year in the life of his penniless bohemian pals, is performed unremarkably _ too bland and too cool for the play’s alternating tones of desperation and liberation.

On opening night at least, Fatone, in both his singing and acting, seemed to be gingerly trying to avoid mistakes. He had the slightly pudgy, nerdy look down _ but was no match as an actor for his more veteran counterparts on stage, and the result was a dimming of the musical’s exuberance. In short, the show felt out of sync.

Still, marketers may well be pleased. Fatone’s mere presence has reignited a buzz about ``Rent,″ which debuted in 1996 and is among Broadway’s longest-running shows. He is certain to sell tickets, and what’s more, bring in an ever-younger crowd. ’N Sync has sold more than 22 million albums, and surely some will pay even Broadway-sized prices to see one of their idols in the flesh.

Young theatergoers who look beyond the star who drew them in will be pleasantly surprised to find an appealing show that retains much of the zest that helped it to four Tony Awards in 1996.

The heart of Jonathan Larson’s creation, of course, still pulses with creativity, sexiness and emotional exuberance as it traces the lives of a group of young bohemians in New York’s East Village in the 1990s. The simple passage of time has made some of the themes and characters that made the show so poignant in then feel dated today.

For the most part, though, director Michael Greif manages to overcome the time warp, mainly by assembling a mostly terrific, energetic cast. Manley Pope, a veteran of the cast, is an outstanding Roger, the young musician trying to find a way out of depression and writer’s block. And Maggie Benjamin is a dynamic Maureen, the performance artist and activist trying to hold on to an abandoned building where her friends live.

As for Fatone, transforming himself from a boy band superstar into a stage actor will take some doing, and it may turn out that he is on the right track. But for now, he remains distinctly out of step in a musical that ultimately manages to overcome his inexperience.

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