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Review: Rent at His Majesty’s Theatre

Review by Tatum Stafford


Australia’s latest Rent revival is a no-holds-barred, passionate, bold production that I’m certain Perth audiences will remember for many years to come. 


The story of Rent is one of friendship, adversity, community and identity. Set in New York’s East Village in the late 80s/early 90s, the show starts on Christmas Eve and follows a cast of characters through a “year in the life”. There’s filmmaker Mark, rock musician Roger, their professor friend Tom Collins, their neighbour Mimi, Mark’s ex-girlfriend, performance artist Maureen, Maureen’s new girlfriend Joanne, drag queen Angel, landlord Benny and a multi-faceted ensemble.


As the characters interact, intertwine, and unify, there’s a sinister undercurrent of unease, as HIV/AIDS is making its way through New York City and showing no mercy for its victims.


Director Shaun Rennie has done an incredible job with this piece. Every single detail in this intricate show is pitch perfect and has wonderful warmth and heart. Paired with Luca DiNardo’s feisty and effervescent choreography (“La Vie Boheme a deserved showstopper”) and masterful music direction from Andrew Worboys, it’s a show that is clear in its purpose and near flawless in its execution.


The cast are simply outstanding. Not only are their vocals incredibly impressive and powerful, but they are clearly a cohesive unit and play a very convincing group of friends affected by shared tragedy. To name a few standouts, Jerrod Smith’s vocal prowess and grit as Roger was stunning, Martha Berhane’s showed incredible charisma and magnetic stage presence as Mimi, and Noah Mullins was superb as Mark, the show’s narrator. 


Though she didn’t enter the action until the end of the first act, Calista Nelmes stole the show for me in one of the most impressive and bombastic performances as Maureen I’ve seen. She was captivating, and her voice is worth your ticket price alone. 

 

It’s such a treat to see a set that consistently surprises you as plot progresses, and it’s clear Dann Barber (Set Designer) and Paul Jackson (Lighting Designer) have worked beautifully in tandem to create some absolutely stunning visuals throughout the show. The transition into “Out Tonight” elicited audible gasps; as did the latter half of “Over The Moon”. 


Big shout-out also to Ella Butler, Costume Designer, who created beautiful symmetry amongst the cast, and whose runway-ready outfits before “Over The Moon”, featuring ties, bags and jackets, were a clear audience highlight. 


The intimacy direction of the show was really impressive, and aided in creating some incredibly believable moments between characters. “Take Me Or Leave Me”, in particular, was fantastic to watch and conveyed the complexity of Maureen and Joanne’s relationship perfectly. 

 

If you’ve never seen Rent, this production is a more than perfect introduction to a masterpiece of modern musical theatre. I feel incredibly fortunate that a production of this calibre and quality has made its way out west, and can’t wait to see what its producers will bring us next. 

Image Credit: Pia Johnson

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