Written by Jonathan Larson, RENT is a story about love and tragedy following the trials and tribulations of a group of friends living in New York City one year. The show tackles several themes that would have once been considered ‘taboo’, such as sexuality, HIV & AIDs and the group’s struggle with homelessness. Alongside the tragedy featuring on stage, the creation of RENT itself would also become a tragedy, with Larson passing away before the show’s opening night off-Broadway in 1996.
Before the show began, it was nice to see a fairly large crowd in the Annex; previous shows in the theatre have been disappointingly poor in attendance. With a popular ‘modern classic’ such as RENT, it is certain that seats will be filled and thoroughly enjoyed by crowds throughout the week.
The set perfectly suited this production. To quote from the opening monologue, ‘old rock and roll posters line the walls’, portraying the apartment that the characters occupy as squatters, which must have been a mammoth task for the production team to create. The production made great use of the small space of the Annex with raised platforms to add many different levels to the performance. RENT is filled with fast based rock songs as well as softer ballads which only required a 5 piece band, who played well throughout the performance.
RENT doesn’t open with an overture or musical number but with a monologue setting the scene. We are introduced to focal characters ‘Mark’, played by Raees Mahmood, (who wears the same costume as the original Broadway production and film) and ‘Rodger’ played by Showstoppers favourite Jez Roberts. The characters both have a difficult vocal range but Roberts confidently pulls off ‘One Song Glory’ in the opening scenes. The pair gave a good performance throughout the show.
Overall, the principals performed well. As with most productions, there were stand out members of the cast who stole the show. Sarah Moir playing the role of ‘Maureen’ was able to command the audience’s full attention, showing off her impressive vocals and delivering lines in a slick and often comedic manner. Equally excellent was Robyn Fryer playing the role of ‘Joanne’, who displayed similarly powerful vocals. Her fantastic character portrayal and performance skills meant that every movement or action and every piece of dialogue had a purpose. The duet between the two in Act 2, ‘Take me or leave me’, although not the best song in the musical, was easily the highlight of this production.
Another successful duo amongst the principles were ‘Angel’ and ‘Collins’ played by Tashan Nicholas and Patrick Cahill. The vocal ranges of both characters are difficult to say the least but were executed well with beautiful harmonies during the couple’s duets. For lovers of RENT, Patrick Cahill’s performance of ‘I’ll cover you reprise’, with superb additional vocals from Sarah Moir and the rest of the ensemble will surely give you goosebumps.
The ensemble are due credit particularly for vocals. The cast came together for beautiful harmonies in ‘Life Support’ and produced a fantastic sound in the iconic song ‘Seasons of Love’, which is no doubt down to relentless practice and direction from MD and assistant MD David Winters and James Gale. The choreography by Alysaa Fox-Charles was overall good such as the performance given by Showstopper veteran Charissa Foster as the stripper ‘Mimi’. During RENT there isn’t a great amount of opportunity for dancing and so some moves seemed unnecessary, out of place and inflicted on vocals.
Although overall an excellent and entertaining performance, almost all of the cast were at times guilty of two important things: lack of energy and vocal projection. Throughout the show, this lack of energy meant that some of the passion and frustration captured in Larson’s lyrics were sadly lost. The musical is mostly sung, and although vocally the cast were pleasing, the dialogue was frequently rushed or lost completely. It is these segments of script that connect the story together, convey character progression and are potentially humorous moments of the show were often wasted. Without previous knowledge of RENT, audience members would find moments of the plot confusing and so the production would benefit from slower line delivery with increased projection and more conviction in the words they speak.
Congratulations to the director and Showstopper president Chris Foxwell and the rest of the team for a thoroughly enjoyable production of this modern classic. You’ll fall in love with the characters and be singing the anthemic songs to yourself for days afterwards.
RENT runs nightly in the Annex theatre until February 16th. If you’re stuck for Valentines idea, RENT comes highly recommended.