In what is commonly regarded as the holy grail of musical theatre, Rent is a much loved and often performed piece, which has garnered acclaim since its New York conception in 1994.
Rent’s most recent incarnation is brought to the Chapel off Chapel stage by Next Step Productions. The company’s debut piece is a risky venture, as the much-loved musical (loosely based on Puccini’s La Boheme) often comes under fire from die-hard fans.
Happily this is not the case with Next Step, from the moment the impressive light display hits the stage the audience is transfixed, and transported to a freezing New York City where a group of bohemian artists struggle to make ends meet in an uncertain world.
While drugs, sex, and disease drive the plot of Rent, the characters that the story depicts are as real and relevant today as in the early 1990s. I have often thought that Rent is an out-dated piece, with AIDS and HIV centred themes driving the performance and losing relevance with each passing year and medical discovery.
However, what Next Step Productions brings to the stage is an incredibly moving piece of theatre with solid performances from the entire ensemble. Backed by stunning voices, the soaring harmonies are spot on and the cast do Jonathan Larson’s creation justice with sincere and poignant performances.
Director Paul Watson has cast the show with perfect precision, Cameron Macdonald as the show’s protagonist Mark, is glorious to listen to and genuine in his performance of the struggling filmmaker refusing to be won over by corporate greed. Joined by his rag tag group of fellow bohemians, including; roommate Rodger, (Steve Simmons) Stripper Mimi, (Melanie Ott) Ex girlfriend Maureen, (Gemma Purdy) and Maureen’s new girlfriend Joanne, (Zuleika Khan) the characters attempt to live in an unforgiving environment.
Purdy’s performance of Maureen is as hilarious as it is sensational. Not afraid of the role, Purdy throws herself into the philandering, self centred and slightly mad character with careful abandon, and the results are wonderful.
Purdy’s powerhouse voice is matched by Khan’s incredible range and brought a standing ovation for her performance in the opening of Act 2, (Seasons of Love).
The stand out performances belong to Collins (Shaun Kingma) and Angel (Leigh Barker). The couple, who meet on Christmas eve and are both suffering from AIDS, bring so much emotion to the stage during I’ll cover you, (reprise) that there were very few dry eyes in the Chapel.
Kingma’s baritone, much like his performance was simply incredible, and I would happily have him sing me to sleep each evening.
Next Step Productions have achieved an incredible feat with Rent, and are a company to look out for on the Australian (and world!) stage.
Next Step Productions presents
music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Director Paul Watson
Venue: Chapel off Chapel – 12 little Chapel St Prahran
Dates: 9 – 18 January 2014
Tickets: $49.50 – $45.00