Bohemians like you


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 other.

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 of Maureen.

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.