There's no telling what Larson could have accomplished had his life not ended so early. Some of the smaller moments in Rent hint at what he might have given us in a more mature piece. For example, there's "Tango Maureen," a funny and charming song in which Mark dances with the woman who stole his girlfriend -- and confesses to having first learned to tango as a kid at the Scarsdale J.C.C. In "Santa Fe" the boys joke wistfully about leaving Gotham behind and opening up a restaurant in the Southwest. Finally there's "I'll Cover You." Sung by Angel, who has AIDS, and Collins, his partner, as they fall in love -- and by Collins and the company after Angel dies -- it's as lovely a romantic ballad as you'd ever want to hear.
And just to prove that I'm not the ultimate theater grinch, let me just say that the cold cockles of my heart were nearly melted by the gorgeous staging on several occasions, not the least by the death scene of Angel, presented as the centerpiece of three lovers' quarrels. Even the show's sentimentality can't whitewash the stunning freshness of any individual AIDS death.
Speaking of Angel, the hometown debut of Andy Senor was sparkly and effervescent, downright magnificent at times. The Coral Park High School grad, now age 23, took over the role of Angel -- it won originator Wilson Jermaine Heredia a Tony -- from understudy Wilson Cruz during the show's Los Angeles run. Now, as the show's resident drag queen, Senor is given the best costumes: In one, a red-and-white Santa jacket, snow-leopard tights and a china-doll wig, he seems to have wandered over from the cross-dressing contest at Lucky Cheng's. He also gets to show off his marmalade voice and charismatic stage presence. Here's hoping we see him again soon, with or without stockings, with or without a meatier show in which to sing.