Review: Rent

A strong production of much loved rock musical 

By Bradley Storer

RENT – Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize winning musical of poverty-stricken bohemian artists on the streets of ’90s New York comes to Chapel Off Chapel in a new staging by James Terry Productions, and anyone who attends will certainly be able to see why the show continues to connect with audiences today.

Across the board all the performances are solid, although my personal favourites were those who managed to put their own twist on these well-loved characters. Evan Lever brings a gawky and geeky boyishness to Mark along with his powerful vocals. Connor Morel’s Roger tends more towards callow youthfulness rather than embittered intensity which is refreshing to watch. Kala Gare commits so thoroughly to Maureen’s ridiculousness and spins her narcissistic self-absorption in such unexpected ways that it becomes incredibly charming instead of potentially annoying. Angel, the emotional centre of the ensemble, is a great opportunity for the right performer and Marty Alix is wonderful in the role – channelling elements of ball culture and vogueing rather than Broadway razzle dazzle to winning effect, Alix’s soft and gentle stage presence is a beautiful match to the character.

Under Katie Weston’s assured and capable musical direction, the score thrums along and clearly communicates the vital pulse of this work even today. The bleak scaffolding set is combined with menacing wire fences to cleverly transition scenes and separate spaces as well as a gorgeous luminescent love heart deployed at appropriate moments.

Director Mark Taylor has made deliberate choices that step away from previous productions, which one can appreciate with a musical as well known and regularly staged as this one. The presence of an onstage piano which allows the homeless characters to express themselves creates poignancy, and the transformation by choreographer Freya List of a subway ride into a physical movement piece for Santa Fe was certainly charming. The reimagination of Maureen’s (intentionally) pretentious performance art piece allows for some hilarious contributions from Willow Sizer and Nathan Fernandez as backing dancers. The reconfiguration of Contact as a feverish nightmare is a unique interpretation, although in applying a more literal framework it felt as though it lost some of the emotional wallop that usually accompanies this moment.

The Will I? sequence was incredibly moving, buoyed by Jye Cannon’s heartbreaking solo and the continuing reality of people living with HIV/AIDS reveals how relevant the show’s themes remain – costume designer Kim Bishop’s inclusion of actual shirts from the ACT UP movement is a nice touch that drives this point home.

A strong production of a modern classic rock musical, sure to delight any die-hard fans and thrill any new comers!

RENT is being performed at Chapel Off Chapel 29 November – 9 December. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

Photograph: James Terry