Presented by Marie Clark Musical Theatre
Reviewed 31 August 2016
Jonathan Larson’s Rent is one of the most popular musicals of all time, winning a slew of Tony Awards and being one of only nine musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The show follows the story of a small band of homeless artists living in New York and struggling with AIDS. Rent’s popularity is largely contributed to its rock-styled music and its passion and emotion. Marie Clark is the most recent company to take on this landmark show and its popularity has shone through with multiple performances already being sold out. Unfortunately this production seems to miss the point of the show and comes out at the end almost soulless
The cast undoubtedly is vocally strong and have been well drilled by Mark and Ben Stefanoff bringing out the most in Larson’s wonderful harmonies. As Benny and Collins, Ron Abelita and Angus Birdseye both sing and act well with Birdseye’s I’ll Cover You (reprise) being a highlight. Anton Shcrama as Roger performs strongly but at times tends to gruff up his voice and character. This comes across as a little forced, but this is infrequent and his beautiful natural voice soars through Your Eyes.
Damien Quick as Mark and Jennifer Trijo as Mimi both sing wonderfully but their characters lack much real depth, making them hard to identify and empathise with. As Maureen, Fiona Delaine has one of the strongest voices in the cast and has opted for a more comic approach to the role. This is a workable solution in some cases but, again, makes the character shallow and a little too unrealistic.
Sarah Whiteley and Mark Stefanoff are the strengths of the principal cast. Whiteley is fantastic as Joanne, carefully balancing the strength and softness of character all rounded off with a powerhouse voice. Stefanoff, having previously played Angel to great critical acclaim, repeats his fantastic performance with energetic dancing and hilarious line delivery.
Rent is an impassioned show with a multi-faceted plot that can, for the uninitiated, be difficult to follow. This production has made the choice to maximise on energy by upping the tempos of several key numbers. This does, however, result in key plot elements being glazed over and limits the room for actor/character chemistry. Directorial decisions by Mark Stefanoff and Nina Richards are the largest pitfall of the show as pacing is inconsistent and actors seemingly move randomly about the stage. With a show like this – that has multiple storylines and is mostly sung-through – maintaining these elements is central to creating a cohesive show.
Richard’s choreography can also be hit-and-miss. At times it beautifully works with the show – most notably in La Vie Boheme. At other times it is completely unnecessary and serves either to upstage an important scene or ruin the emotional energy of a passionate song. This production is blessed with some incredibly talented dancers and they execute the choreography spectacularly.
Stefanoff’s set design is solid but does not flow as much as it possibly could, leaving the show with a couple of clunky changes. Sound and lighting design had some serious flaws that were majorly to the detriment of the show. Microphones dropped in and out, seemingly completely at random, leaving many key lines of song completely inaudible. The lighting design was static with bland full-stage washes and intelligent lights that required the cast to adhere to the strict lighting rather than it being fluid. Both of these issues could be related to the technical limitations of the venue but they do not support the show well.
In the end, most of these issues would be workable and forgivable if it were not for the missing heart of the show. At its core, Rent is about artists struggling to survive with poverty and AIDS. This production seems to entirely miss this emotional core with cast dressed in clean, designer brand clothing (completely non-functional on the streets) and emotional moments about the risks of AIDS being completely glossed over.
As already stated, Rent is one of the most popular musicals of the past 20 years and its enormous following is bound to offer this show much success. To a point, this production deserves that with wonderful vocal performances. In the end, however, this production feels disappointing as it does not reach quite what the original material dictates that it should be.
Reviewed by Nathan Quadrio
Venue: Goodwood Institute
Season: 30th August – 3rd September
Duration: 2 hour 30 minutes