RENT by TONI BARTLETT
Well, it’s been worth the wait. Ten years after
its New York Theatre Workshop debut, Rent has finally opened for Brisbane audiences, thanks to Schonell-Starlight Productions. And the result is one funky
and spunky night out: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get a crush on one
of the gifted ensemble.
Now showing at the University of Queensland’s Schonell
Theatre - in a bid to save the iconic playhouse from the
spoils of the Federal Government’s VSU legislation (no irony there folks)
- the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Rent will
delight those who love their musicals and even those who would rather see
the genre enlivened somewhat.
Punters who long for more gay and lesbian characters
on the stage will likewise be pleased, and those who just like to see an
engaging story well told will not be disappointed. Jonathon Larson’s
famous update of Puccini’s La Bohème is everything you hoped it
would be: well-written, energetic, daring and full of heart.
On Shane Rodwell’s spare but graffiti-strewn set,
we’re invited to spend a year with an extended family of down-and-out New
Yorker artists as they struggle with money, love, creativity and each
There’s filmmaker Mark (Shane Kelly), recently dumped
by sassy performance artist Maureen (Louise Gavin) for public lawyer and
Harvard graduate, Joanne (Julie Cotterell); there’s Mark’s flat-mate
Roger (Bradley McCaw), a musician determined to write that elusive “one
great song” who meets Mimi (Naomi Price), an exotic-dancing dynamo with a
predilection for junk; their friend Tom, a New York academic, who finds
love with a street-drumming tranny called Angel (James Dobinson); and
sometimes clashing with this community is Benny (Damien Orth), an old
flat-mate turned landlord.
With a taste for Christmas-time evictions, Benny has
bought Mark and Tom’s apartment block - and he’s started
talking heavy about the rent. In the midst of the mêlée is the spectre of
AIDS - with beepers going off to remind many a HIV-positive
character to take their AZT, its presence is a dark thread throughout.
Directed by Jack Bradford, with musical direction from
Shane Tooley, Rent is a life-affirming production that, despite
occasional sound glitches, never fails to communicate its message of
tolerance and compassion while breathing new life into Puccini’s
time-honoured scenario. As the characters and chorus rock-opera their way
through eviction protests, support group meetings, parental phone calls
and even a staged wake for the death of Bohemia, love in its many guises
is found and lost and found again.
While some performances are stronger than others,
overall the acting is energetic, the music is tight (and considerate to
the vocalists!) and the vocals themselves are often stunning. Naomi Price
as Mimi proves herself a vital local talent and Louise Gavin similarly
steals the show with the lively presence she brings to the charismatic role
Schonell-Starlight Productions present Rent
by Jonathon Larson at the Schonell Theatre until Saturday May 6. Thursday
to Saturday (7:30pm). Matinees: Saturday (2pm). Sunday and public
holidays (5pm). Bookings: 3377 2240.