Theatre Review: RENT

Presented by: 5 Quarter and Preachers Productions
Reviewed: 7 October 2022

The groundbreaking musical RENT ran on Broadway for over twelve years, gaining critical acclaim and racking up multiple awards. Loosely based on Puccini’s opera, La Boheme, Jonathan Larson’s rock musical tells the story of a group of struggling young artists as they create a life in Lower Manhattan’s East Village in the thriving days of bohemian Alphabet City under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. It is meant to be a powerful and confronting musical that reminds the audience that there is no day but today to make a change.

It is unfortunate that this latest production, produced by 5 Quarter and Preachers Productions, missed the punch that RENT truly needs. What is meant to be a show where the characters’ venerability is put on the line, this show’s direction lacked the depth and maturity that is needed. It’s a dangerous move directing a show and playing a lead role. Benjamin Maio Mackay, who usually produces fine works of theatre, struggled to navigate this mammoth, emotion driven show, and numerous sightline issues could have been potentially avoided if the director was not also on the stage. Vocally, they struggled through the demanding role of Roger.

A lot of the execution across the board missed its mark on opening night. Muddy vocal direction work meant the crisp, punchy melodies that Larson wrote didn’t land the way they were intended. Audio also suffered. The band sounded muffled and the rocking score didn’t hit the audience in the way it should. At times, the vocals were lost in the mix. Traditionally, the show does not end with individual bows, but rather a company bow. I found it unusual to break from Larson’s original direction and add in individual bows. 

However, this production had a few saving graces.

The lighting and set design by Matt Ralph worked a treat. Ralph’s lighting added much needed maturity to the show. It brought great depth and almost worked as a character. Nina Richards’ choreography also added its own flare and was well executed by the cast.

Lindsay Prodea, Tate Simpson and Vaishnavi Rajaramanan held the bulk of this show together. Prodea brought a wealth of experience that was needed to navigate the role of Mark Cohen. It is a demanding sing and requires great presence. Prodea is a well seasoned performer and was wonderful to see him bring his own spin to the role. Tate Simpson’s moving rendition of Goodbye Love was a highlight. Simpson showed the light and shade required for Mimi and her connection to the libretto was excellent. A true standout performance, both in acting and vocals, has to go to Vaishnavi Rajaramanan. Being an understudy is no easy feat, but Rajaramanan rose to the challenge and nailed it. Her voice is phenomenal, and that trademark top C in Season Of Love (the one the avid fans of the show like myself are sitting there waiting for) floated above the cast with great clarity and precision.

The ensemble worked hard throughout this production, but special mention has to go to Chloe Fusco and Shalee Madeline Vicencio. When these two fine performers got a moment to shine vocally in the curtain call, it left me and those around me wondering why they had not been featured more throughout the show.

A final mention must go to the band, lead by musical director Jesse Budel. Tucked away up the back of the stage, this group of five local musicians kept Larson’s rocking score ticking along. As a musical director myself, it often frustrates me that the band doesn’t get the credit it deserves, so a massive kudos to you all. The band features Jesse Budel on Keys 1, Mark Lanigan-O’Keeffe on Guitar 1/Tambourine, Jennifer Trijo on Keys 2/Guitar 2, Sebastian Brook on Bass and Miles Farnan on Drums.

RENT is playing at The Queens Theatre until October 15. Ticket available at . 

Reviewed by: Ben Stefanoff

Photo credit:

Venue: The Queens Theatre
Season: 6 – 15 October, 2022
Duration: 2 hours (including interval)
Tickets: From $38.00

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