The musical Rent is a case of stories date but music never does, stories date but their message never does, and stories date but there is no need for theatre companies to update!
Thank goodness, in this case, that the story has dated. This heart rending and uplifting musical tells of a time when mainstream society shunned the gay community and the HIV virus destroyed lovers, lives and laughter.
Catchy Title Productions has packed this show with an 80s punch, refreshingly refusing any attempt to “update” the era. The result is a pithy and poignant reminder to constantly be vigilant against fundamental views that speak of anything but compassion and love.
Director Scott Nell and Choreographer Leigh Warren have showcased a team of talented performers ensuring that the haunting story and music are delivered in top-notch fashion. In fact the fashion is a highlight of show with designer Harry Watt creating an original costume for one of the main characters, and Megan Humphries co-coordinating an authentic array of 80s costumes.
Musical director Matthew Carey, with Tim Freedman on sound, has provided a feast of music for both those who are familiar with the rock musical, and those being introduced for the first time.
“I’ll Cover You”, “Goodbye Love” and, of course, the better-known “Seasons of Love” are passionate, stirring the heart and the soul. Deanna Farnell (as Joanne) and Josh Brittain (Mark) singing and dancing the number “Tango: Maureen” is also a lovely lighter moment.
While the details of the story are sometimes elusive to newcomers, its strength lies in its paradoxical subject matter. Writer Jonathon Larson celebrates life in the midst of death, emotional riches in the midst of poverty and contrasts the anguish and joy of love. The greatest contradiction of all maybe the real life story of this playwright who tragically died before the show was successfully staged, and posthumously won a Pulitzer Prize.
Loosely based on Puccini’s opera La Boheme, this rock musical is set in New York’s Lower East Side and tells of a group of young struggling artists and musicians at a time when AIDS was rampant.
Central character Mark Cohen acts the narrator introducing us to the eclectic band of bohemians. Brittain’s singing and acting performance as the introverted Mark, is inspired. This role is pivotal as Mark is the filmmaker who is both a central character and yet also a quiet observer. Brittain brings an intelligence and sweetness to Mark that is appealing and easily creates a window into the world of the more flamboyant characters.
Deanna Farnell is also a standout performer as the lawyer Joanne in love but often times fraught in her relationship with the flirtatious Maureen, played to the hilt by Whitney Boyd. The spark between these two lovers is delightful and never more so than in the number “Take Me or Leave Me”.
Ruth Blythman is a sexy and seamy dancer, who does her best to strike up a spark with Jason Ferguson’s sullen and moody Roger and then turns to the successful sell-out and married Benjamin (Fahad Farooque).
However, it is the love affair between Rod Schultz as Tom Collins and James Christopher Reed as Angel that truly touches the heart strings. Schultz strikes just the right note as the professor who discovers that Angel has given him a “new lease on life”. Reed is a delight as the daring Drag Queen flashing his/her baby blue eyes and big smile, and touching the hearts and souls of those who cross his/her path.
Angel’s message, and the message of Rent, is loud and clear – make the most of each day by filling it with human love and kindness, the ultimate salve for all suffering.
This show has its dark moments (sometimes literally as the lighting crew needs to improve) and is a sad reminder for anyone who has lost someone near and dear to the ravaging disease of AIDS. However, it is also a celebration of diversity, individuality and love.
Catchy Title Productions
by Jonathan Larson
Venue: Star Theatres | 145 Sir Donald Bradman Drive, Hilton
Dates/Times: November 6-8, 12-15, 19-22 @ 8pm & Nov 16 @ 5pm
Bookings: www.catchytitle.com.au or 08 7120 2933