This rock opera tells the story of one year in the life of a group of bohemians struggling in modern day East Village New York.
The story centres around Mark and Roger, two roommates. While a former tragedy has made Roger numb to life, Mark tries to capture it through his attempts to make a film.
In the year that follows, the group deals with love, loss, AIDS, and modern day life in one truly powerful story.
A wonderful fantastic show, filled with the most wonderful cast so dedicated to their cause. Don't miss this production because something this passionate won't be seen in Palmerston North. Top marks to all involved. Stunning !!!
When I first read about this show, I didn't think it would amount to much. I'd never even heard of the story before, plus it actually sounded rather dull, and it was simply because of free tickets and the fact it had Richard Rewa (already a favourite performer of mine after seeing several of his other shows) in it, that I decided what the heck, let's give it a go.
When I first got there, the set didn't look like much, and I prepared myself to be rather bored. This is one of those instances where you should definitely NOT go by first impressions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! RENT was far from dull... it was powerful, deep, rather moving in places, and blessed with a rather talented cast. It touched quite strongly on issues that, even in today's society, MANY people refuse to acknowledge or accept... homosexuality, AIDS, the homeless, drugs addiction, etc, and was performed in a way that seemed REAL, not over-the-top (except for maybe a couple of scenes) like in a lot of movies that touch on these issues.
There were a few favourites turning up from other shows I'd enjoyed, along with several new ones that have now been added to my list of people to watch for in up-coming shows.
Richard Rewa was, as usual, absolutely stunning! That man has an amazing voice, along with being a powerful performer, this time in the very convincing role of Tom Collins, an HIV sufferer who is befriended by, then falls in love with, the drag queen Angel, played by Liam Taylor. This is most definitely a performer who will go far, no matter which roles he takes on!
Another favourite was Scott Andrew (as Benny), who I remembered being thoroughly enjoyable in Caberet as well as appearing in a couple of other shows I'd seen. Scott is another one with a very pleasant voice to listen to, and obviously had been quite busy this time round as he'd also done a fair bit of back-stage work, as well as starring in and directing RENT.
Then there was Liam Taylor, who played Angel. Now I'd seen Liam in Footloose, and hadn't really thought much of his performance, but then, he'd only been supporting cast. This time round, in one of the main roles, he really got the chance to SHINE! He played the drag queen's role extremely well, and was a great compliment to Rewa's character, with their "relationship" seeming very real, and very loving. Getting to hear Liam sing solo this time showed off just what a talented singer he is...and as for dancing in heels, well, he did a better job than a lot of women I've seen try!!! Guess I'll be looking out for his name popping up a bit more often!
Janine Bonny was another I'd seen before, in CATS, and remembered her being quite enjoyable then. As Joanne, the rather hard-done-by girlfriend of Maureen (played by Renee Pink), Janine proved to be another strong singer, with an amazing, powerful voice, along with being a rather intense, believable actress who was very much "into character"!
There were new performers I hadn't encountered before that have now been added to the favourite list as well... Richard Scott, as Roger, the HIV+ musician who hasn't left the house in months and is still trying to come to terms with the suicide of his girlfriend. Powerful, intense, rich, wonderful voice that seemed to be held back on many occasions, otherwise it would easily have overwhelmed the tiny Abbey Theatre. Teamed up with Edan Hunt as the HIV+, drug-addicted dancer Mimi who becomes his Love, their duets were beautiful and captivating... some of the best during the whole show! Edan Hunt, along with Richard Scott, are definitely worth keeping an eye out for.
In amongst all this wonderful talent, there really was only a couple who I felt let the show down. Renee Pink, who, just like in her performance in Footloose, over-acted, and over-sang for most of it... even getting to the point of being almost painful to watch during her "Protest" with the song 'Over the Moon'. However, when she sung the duet with Janine Bonny, "Take me or Leave me", it was proven that Renee really does have an amazing voice in there...if only she'd tame it down a little, along with her acting, she'd probably be pretty enjoyable!!
The other who let things down slightly, was Phillip Gurney as Mark, the filmmaker and narrator in the show. Although not completely unpleasant to watch or listen to, Phillip's voice lacked quite a bit (like tune, and power) and seemed to be talking, more than singing a lot of it, where it was obviously supposed to be sung... and it just sounded quite off-key. His performance didn't have the conviction of the other performers either... and seemed rather detached from his character. Maybe opening night jitters, I don't know. But despite that, he still wasn't unpleasant to watch.
In regards to anything else about the show... it still had the usual sound problems, although this time, instead of barely able to hear the actors a lot of the time, the sound was TOO loud right throughout, and had a bit of the usual crackle and static. The set seemed dangerous in places too... the rather large power cord that ran through half the set was tripped over at least twice during the performance, for starters.
When the whole cast got together to sing in places, there were a few songs where it seemed just a big jumble, and became hard to follow the separate songs within, while not even sounding all that harmonised. But one song that truly did differ from that was "Seasons Of Love" which had a great message, while being superbly performed. Everyone's voice just seemed to harmonize nicely with this one, and I rather wish it had been slightly longer!
Be warned that the first Act is rather long... close to two hours (bit longer than I'm used to with the first half of a show). Whereas the 2nd Act was only about an hour.
Definitely worth going to watch, and one I would happily go back and see a 2nd time!!!
There are times when even the most extraordinary of life's experiences becomes mundane, treated as 'just another day in the life of...' because it's overwhelming nature becomes too much to cope with, so we 'tone it down' in our heads and blind ourselves to it's significance, just so we can keep functioning... and occasionally we need to get a bit of a reminder in one form or another... this show was one such.
When it was first written, such topics and same-gender relationships and transgenderism, AIDS and drug addiction, homelessness and prostitution were so shocking to the 'average citizen' that a stageshow openly exposing and flaunting such themes was close to cause for a lynching... now days, with the Civil Unions Bill making same-gender marriages legal, drugs to combat a well-known and media-boring disease such as AIDS being tested daily, rehab clinics popping up in songs as casually as a puppy or a horse with no name, and homeless people and drug addicts common enough to feel comfortable approaching us on the street to ask for spare change... we have become too jaded by the shocking, numb to the pain and suffering of the downtrodden. Wel... -ding ding ding- It'll cost you $30, but here's your wake-up call!
This show is a sometime-poignant, sometimes-jarring look behind the scenes of the life of the 'artistic outside' that tends to rent those spaces we don't want, or see, much anymore. Palmerston North has some great examples, as does Wellington, Auckland, and I am sure almost every other town and city in our fair land. Places where the struggling dissatisfied youth gather to plot the rebellion that never quite happens, discuss the future that never quite arrives, and pass the time until they either grow up and sell out, or grow old and move on.
Without giving you the details of the show, I want to make a few comments on the cast and production... and keeping in mind the comments posted below by the industrious director, cast member, visual effects and set design crewman, Scott Andrew... some of my comments will be omitted, though I still didn't like the chosen volume level...
Richard Scott, who played the HIV+ has-been Rock Idol Roger, showed real talent here. With a good strong voice with plenty of range, he pulled off some great song solos and duets. Having seen him in "Back to the 80's" it was great to see him let his ample hair down and 'be' the grunge rock idol wanting to make one last mark on the world before the virus caught up with him and took him out.
The 'Tango: Maureen' duet between cinematographer and story narrator Mark, played by Phillip Gurney, and dominant lesbian Joanne, played exceptionally well by Janine Bonny (who is fondly remembered as Rumpleteazer from CATS) was brilliant. I think they really brought home how some people who you think you'll never get along with, can sometimes surprise you with how much you both share in life. Although I have to agree with the previous comment at how Phillip tended to musically-speak his lines, rather than sing them in a recognisable tune.
Edan Hunt did an excellent job of powering through the songs, giving strong melody and harmony across an impressive range of notes. She also pulled off the role of 'Mimi' exceptionally well... almost too well at times, having caused me to look away a few times to avoid blushing.
Once again the talented Richard Rewa pulls off another exceptional performance. His appearances in local productions too numerous to list (but a fair few are reviewed on this site) have made him a well-known and always-welcome face on cast lists. In fact, it was seeing his name that tipped the balance for me, taking me from 'Well, it could be interesting...' to 'Well now that's better, it's got a fair shot at good now...' - Yup, Richard is a draw-card for this reviewer... haven't yet seen anything with him in it that I didn't like.
I agree that Renee Pink didn't really hold back when it came to her performance, however I have to say the ebulent style matched the egotistical and narcissistic character of Maureen. Sometime too much to bear, this was the character and Renee did the role justice...
Liam Taylor didn't really 'shine' in "Footloose", but this time around, playing 'Angel', he outshone the floodlights. Angel turned out to be probably the most influential character, touching the lives of pretty much every other character, and created bridges where once there were divides, bringing warmth and love into the hearts of all of them, showing them another side to life. Reminding them that yes, they were all going to die, some sooner than others, but that there is only this moment, this instant of living... that the past is a lesson learnt and a mistake avoided, and the future an unknown and unknowable reflection in the mirror. Having the privilege of knowing someone with a terminal illness has shown me that those who accept their future as a mere infinite instant away from ending, truly manage to embrace life and live it, instead of plodding through it from one glum moment to the next as most of us do.
Overall, this show is a surprise waiting to spring on you... at first sounding like another B-grade low-budget production, it rips away the fancy wrapping and shows you the dark, rusty underbelly that we could all, but for the grace of god, find ourselves embedded in. It brings to the surface all the love and hate, joys and depressions, impulses and reflexes that make our lives so special, each and every moment. The song "Seasons of Love" was by far one of the biggest highlights for me, as it really gives you something to think about... but by far the most gripping song... "Without You"... I am unashamed to admit it had tears streaming down my face. We have all had to cope with overwhelming loss, with overwhelming joy, and with the paralysing fear that we have just stuffed up the best thing in our lives... and that's what this is all about... dealing with life as it is, instead of how we want it to be.
ps. One tiny little thing, no fault of the cast or crew, as the error was in the writing... 1 year is about 525,960 minutes, give or take... the original author, Jonathan Larson, didn't take into account the extra quarter-day that causes a leap-year every 4 years... but what's a mere 6 hours between friends, eh?
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