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BWW REVIEW: A Quarter Of A Century On, RENT Retains A Relevance To A World Desperate For Connection And Community.

RENT

BWW REVIEW: A Quarter Of A Century On, RENT Retains A Relevance To A World Desperate For Connection And Community.

Saturday 2nd January 2021, 7:30pm, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Director Shaun Rennie revisits his connection with Jonathan Larson's iconic rock musical to present a fresh interpretation of RENT for the show's 25th anniversary. With its roots in the 19th century works of Henri Murger's Scènes de la vie de bohème and Giacomo Puccini's subsequent La Bohème, the 20th century multi Tony Award winning musical continues to hold relevance in the 21st century, particularly after a year of social distancing, financial strain and a epidemic on a pandemic scale.

BWW REVIEW: A Quarter Of A Century On, RENT Retains A Relevance To A World Desperate For Connection And Community.
2021 Australian Cast of RENT (Photo: Prudence Upton)

For this new staging, Rennie has the larger letter-box stage of the Sydney Opera House's Drama Theatre to work with which allows for a clearer expression whilst he ensures the intimacy and audience connection is retained. With the larger space Rennie also allows the characters to be 'larger' as he makes bolder choices and pushes the boundaries leading to a more authentic expression of the passionate emotions of the group of poor artists fighting to retain a right to live and work in a world of commercial development and gentrification. He balances this with making sure his performers are connected to their characters so they can present intuitive nuanced expressions that hold an honesty and realism to the experiences.

BWW REVIEW: A Quarter Of A Century On, RENT Retains A Relevance To A World Desperate For Connection And Community.
Callum Francis as Collins and Seann Miley Moore as Angel (Photo: Prudence Upton)

Just as Mark's (Mat Verevis) video camera focuses on the human stories around him, less interested in the background, Dann Barber's set design allows Rennie to keep the audience attention on the stories being told. Exposed lighting rig, industrial staircases, and an unpainted timber central raised stage, paired with Trent Suidgeest's lighting, keeps the focus on the human interactions while action on the sidelines and the band in the rear corner of the stage remain visible, giving Rennie the opportunity to have the ensemble echo the sentiments unfolding centre stage. Canvas banners of charcoal and pen sketches and graffiti initially help anchor the story in New York's Alphabet City and later punctuate scenes whilst also reconnecting the work with its bohemian community of artists. The use of a large mobile moon presents the opportunity for beautiful imagery while also assisting with the shifting of locations and the passage of time although the not always smooth movement does sometimes lend a comical element to the work. Suidgeest's lighting is wonderfully creative as he utilizes a wide range of types of lighting and techniques, from the traditional lighting rig on the exposed gantries to the older filament bulbs in protective cages bordering the central stage, a theater ghost light that plays to the reemergence of Australian theatre from the extended shutdown along with the meager light source in Mark and Roger's (Robert Tripolino) flat, and the descending bulbs that allow the ensemble to echo the action on stage. His design of Angel's (Seann Miley Moore) final battle with AIDS is beautifully rendered and ensures that the message of the scene is crystal clear.

BWW REVIEW: A Quarter Of A Century On, RENT Retains A Relevance To A World Desperate For Connection And Community.
Mat Verevis as Mark and Elenoa Rokobaro as Joanne (Photo: Prudence Upton)

While Larson's work was originally set in the late 1980's, this staging feels more contemporary through Ella Butler's costume design. As 1980's and 90's fashions have returned to be reinterpreted by hipsters, elements of earlier styles are incorporated into the character design, from boilersuits, high waisted pants and flannelette which are worn alongside bold patterns, embroidered and appliqued jackets, of which Collins' (Callum Francis) is a standout, and distressed denim. Butler ensures each character is well defined with their own style while still fitting with the overall aesthetic. The design for Maureen's (Monique Sallé) performance is brilliant and works with Rennie's more daring expression of 'Over The Moon' allowing it to be completely absurd and align perfectly with Maureen's over the top personality. Butler also helps define Angel's character much earlier on with costumes that always express their fluid gender expression and flamboyant nature, something that has not always been as clear in previous productions which presented the character as more a man that dressed in drag rather than a less binary expression.

BWW REVIEW: A Quarter Of A Century On, RENT Retains A Relevance To A World Desperate For Connection And Community.
Mia Morrissey as Mimi and Robert Tripolino as Roger (Photo: Prudence Upton)

Rennie's casting for this incarnation also presents a better representation that the inhabitants of New York's Alphabet City have a broad diversity. The casting also has a number of performers who Sydney musical theatre audiences arent as acquainted with which further reinforces the unknown artist nature of the characters, particularly the ensemble. All vocals are strong, clear and connected to the underlying emotion of the songs while being presented with personality as the performers make the well known numbers their own. The physicality, choreographed by Luca Dinardo draws on a range of styles and utilises the broad space well.

BWW REVIEW: A Quarter Of A Century On, RENT Retains A Relevance To A World Desperate For Connection And Community.
Monique Sallé as Maureen (Photo: Prudence Upton)

As filmmaker and narrator Mark, Mat Verevis gives the character a wounded aloofness as the character retreats behind his camera when he's not trying to look out for his best friend. Robert Tripolino infuses a brooding detachment to musician Roger as he expresses the conflict between falling in love and knowing that drug addict Mimi (Mia Morrissey) could cause him to return to the addiction that contributed to the breakdown of his life. Callum Francis gives the computer age philosophy professor Collins a charming gravity and sensitivity and is matched well with Seann Miley Moore's delightfully camp Angel which ensures it is understandable that the enigmatic gentle soul is a cornerstone of the bohemian community.

BWW REVIEW: A Quarter Of A Century On, RENT Retains A Relevance To A World Desperate For Connection And Community.
Tim Omaji as Benny (Photo: Prudence Upton)

All of the female characters are amplified in this production, allowing the performers to fully showcase their potential and also provide more of a gender balance to the story. No longer are they the secondary stories but bold plotlines. Monique Sallé captures the erratic and extreme personality of the passionate protesting performance artist with a hilarious 'Over The Moon'. Maureen's new love interest, lawyer Joanne is delivered with delicious intensity and gravitas by Elenoa Rokobaro and their duet 'Take Me or Leave Me' is a fabulously crafted standoff in the 'fight ring' and the 'Tango Maureen' with Verevis' Mark is powerful with the echoing scene side stage. Mia Morrissey plays up Mimi's job as an exotic dancer with a much more explicit expression than previous incarnations making her relationship to her sexuality and her use of it to survive more overt. Also of note from the ensemble is Marissa Saroca and Henry Brett's feature in 'Seasons of Love A' which opens Act 2.

BWW REVIEW: A Quarter Of A Century On, RENT Retains A Relevance To A World Desperate For Connection And Community.
Elenoa Rokobaro as Joanne and Monique Sallé as Maureen (Photo: Prudence Upton)

As a 25th anniversary expression of RENT, this new production is a fitting tribute to the well known and well loved musical. Delivering a deeper understanding and exploration of the ideas and the characters to reinforce the messages of the need for community, connection and compassion in a world where we have been facing isolation, loss, and anger and at times grief and loss but also celebrating life and love, in all its challenging forms, Rennie ensures that this work remains relevant in the 21st Century. Well worth securing a ticket.

https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/events/whats-on/musical-theatre/2021/rent.html

Season runs from 27th December 2020 to Sunday 31st January 2021.

With Covid19 management in place, secure your seats early.

Photos: Prudence Upton

BWW REVIEW: A Quarter Of A Century On, RENT Retains A Relevance To A World Desperate For Connection And Community.
2021 Australian Cast of RENT (Photo: Prudence Upton)

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