The Tony award-winning musical Rent has had a long and illustrious run. From its inception as a short workshop production in New York in 1994, to its cinematic adaptation and eventual close on Broadway in 2008, it has tugged at heartstrings and captured the imagination of audiences the world over.
Telling an ostensibly morose tale of struggling artists and musicians living under the cloud of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in early-90s New York City, it handles the burden of the solemn subject matter with dexterity, warmth, intelligently-placed humour and, as with most musicals, a bucket-load of catchy tunes.
This new incarnation of Rent from Pindar Productions promises a “dark, grotty and grim” take on the much-loved musical, and I can honestly say that this is the only time these three words have elicited a positive reaction. Director Adam Scown has given us a production that is visceral and heart-breaking. The melodrama, while perhaps suffocating in any other context, only serves to heighten the intensity of emotional response undoubtedly felt by all in the tiny Tabard Theatre. For 2 hours I forgot that I could barely fit my legs in the tiny space between my seat and the one in front, no matter what way I twisted. I forgot that, in an inevitable manifestation of the ubiquitous bad luck that plagues me, the strap on my beloved handbag had broken minutes earlier. I was instead left stunned by the potency of emotions I both felt and witnessed from the alarmingly talented cast – who are all unnaturally good-looking by the way.
I was particularly impressed by Kirby Lunn and Jodie Steele, who play Maureen and Mimi, respectively. Though not as polished, the similarities between Lunn and Idina Menzel’s portrayal of the same character in the Broadway and film productions were evident. Similarly, despite a few excessive vocal trills and decorations which led to some difficulty in discerning what lyrics she was actually singing, the quality of Steele’s voice and its power can’t be denied. As with any imported musical, there were a few dubious North American accents being brandished, but that is to be expected. In any case, when presented with such consistent talent from every single member of a cast; you tend to forgive the accidental Jamaican inflection here and there.
Highlights of the show included the songs ‘Tango: Maureen’ (showcasing Charlie Royce’s notable dance and comedic prowess), the fabulous ensemble visual feast that was ‘La Vie Boheme’, and of course, the stunning duet between Maureen and lover Joanne, ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ (which I am still humming as I write this).
I challenge anyone who goes to see this show not to be swept up in its vitality, youth, fervour, barefaced cheek (literally) and poignancy. It’s a production that proves you don’t need a big budget or acres of performance space to be just as, if not more enjoyable than those that do. Go and see it, immediately.
Rent is playing at the Tabard Theatre until 31 August. For tickets and information please visit the Tabard Theatre website.