BWW Review: RENT at Chapel Off Chapel

Review by Kathleen Reynolds

James Terry's production of RENT at Chapel Off Chapel is a perfect combination of production quality and talent that will thrill both long-time fans of the smash hit musical and first-time audiences.

Set in New York's Lower East side in 1989, we follow a group of young struggling creatives who are desperately trying to follow their passions but are struggling to survive. Further to that, the presence of HIV and AIDS is chilling, and the group faces the full wrath of what it means to be both affected and surrounded by the deadly disease.

BWW Review: RENT at Chapel Off ChapelBeautifully directed by Mark Taylor, the characters motives and actions stretch way beyond the surface of the songs they are singing. The intricate detail of many of the musical's songs can be difficult for new audiences to follow, however this cast does a magnificent job of enunciating each lyric with magnificent expression for the audience to keep up. The thought-provoking and energetic number "La Vie Boheme" put this theory to the test and the cast passed with flying colours. Matched with clean choreography by Freya List this number is a huge highlight of the whole show.

The astonishing talent that lights up the stage in this show will make your skin tingle. We quickly develop a strong trust that we are in great hands as the young lead cast beam with professionalism. Roger shows off Conor Morel's voice effortlessly and Morel plays the character with conviction and passion. Co-star Evan Lever is a fantastic choice as Mark who really unifies the show both in his character and performance. Lever is an example of a brilliant performer to watch when the spotlight isn't on him - his commitment to his character is admirable.

The vocally stunning Samantha Bruzzese plays the character of sassy, fire-cracker Mimi with depth, conviction, and a load of energy. Kala Gare as the quirky Maureen is absolutely hilarious. She puts a real spin on the original character by adding extra moments that will make you laugh out loud. Whilst her monologue of "Over The Moon" is really long, it's unique and engaging, she even had the audience joining in. Overall, the casting is impressive, especially when it comes to Angel, the kind-hearted transgender women spectacularly played by Marty Alix. This character has many complex physical and emotional layers, and Alix portrays the highest high's and lowest low's with personality and grace.

A valuable tip: do not discount the ensemble in this show because they will knock you out with surprise performances that will leave you gob smacked. A special mention should go to Jye Cannon, Lucinda Ventimiglia who are both vocally impressive and to Willow Sizer for her dedication of every single character she plays (homeless person, performance artist, nagging employer - she nails them all).

Generally, the space and staging could do with some improvements. Chapel off Chapel is a very intimate theatre that felt a little too small for this show. The band attempted to be hidden at the back of the stage however they seemed intrusive, taking up a large section of the space. When the whole cast would appear on stage it was difficult to understand where to draw your attention at times. There are also some moments that should have felt more intimate, however a large portion of the cast would be standing onstage, disengaged in the scene. Even though they weren't physically in the spotlight, the small setting made them hard to ignore.

Furthermore, whilst some numbers had thoughtful, well-rehearsed, sharp choreography, others either had no choreography or small movements that felt unplanned. Typically this show isn't one you attend to see choreography, however some subtle, articulate and meaningful movements to really unify the cast would have added to the production value.

This show is thought provoking, joyful, heartbreaking and inspirational all at once and the brilliant cast follows every single beat. James Terry's production of RENT will make you laugh, cry and launch you into a time where the threat of AIDS and HIV was terrifying. However, as Evan Lever beautifully announced after the final applause, AIDS and HIV are still very real today. That's why all profits from the programmes sold at this production will be donated to those living and affected by the disease. What a marvellous touch.

RENT is on a Chapel Off Chapel until December 9th 2018.

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