By Maree Paliouras
As one of the longest running and highest grossing Broadway shows in history, Jonathon Larson’s Tony award winning musical, Rent, is one of the most well-known and highly commended shows of all time. So, understandably, I walked into Knox Community Arts Centre with high expectations for Grover Theatre Company’s (GTC) production of the show.
The show that they put on surpassed my expectations to a ridiculous degree.
An absolutely stellar cast brings to life a brilliantly thought out and executed rendition of the beloved musical. Starring Lachie Trappett as Mark, Stewart Hawkey as Roger, Laura Harris-Rilen as Mimi, Sos Gill as Maureen, Cynthia Gallie as Joanne, Sean French as Angel, Tristan Cullinan-Smayle as Collins, Luke Peverelle as Benny, and a ridiculously talented ensemble, the show is packed with unbelievable performers.
Loosely based on the opera La Bohème, Rent is a musical telling the story of young people living in New York City during the the AIDS crisis and the many struggles they face.
As an extremely powerful show that covers a range of issues such as drug addiction, homelessness, LGBTQ+ issues, and death, a high degree of skill is required from all performers involved. GTC brought this and more.
From the very beginning, the power and emotion of Roger and Mark’s situation is clear, as are the intense and often heartbreaking circumstances of practically every other featured character. The acting displays a high level of development with the emotional delivery and flawless execution of important scenes. Laura Harris-Rilen depicts an incredible Mimi and her stage chemistry with partner, Stewart Hawkey’s Roger is admirable. The same goes for Collins and Angel, with Sean French and Tristan Cullinan-Smayle working outstandingly both together and on their own. Lachie Trappett also performs an awe-inspiring Mark, his presence and skill shining throughout the show.
The cast also showcases that they can dance which just emphasizes their already clear talent displayed through song. A show with one of my favourite scores, the cast seizes the opportunity to absolutely nail its numbers and the audience is the richer for it.
While overall, the musical numbers are captivating, some stood out as performances that had me lost for words. “Tango: Maureen” is truly exhilarating. With awe-inspiring dancing and amazing comedic delivery in conjunction with powerful vocals, it is brilliantly done. “Today 4 U” also completely blew me away. The performance given by Angel (Sean French) is something brilliant beyond comprehension. A fun song complete with a cartwheel and voguing in threateningly high heels, left me amazed by both the performance and the talent possessed by the actor.
While those songs are particularly noteworthy due to their glitz, some stood out due to emotional delivery. “Without you” is performed so poignantly that there isn’t a part of it that isn’t completely heart-wrenching. From the main vocals to the characters in the back, it is done exceptionally. Another song that is renowned as a tear-jerker is “I’ll Cover You (reprise).” GTC’s adaption of it is no exception to that statement, it absolutely broke my heart. No, it tore it into pieces, shattered it, and proceeded to light it on fire. I was left in tears from the sheer emotion and context of the scene unraveling upon the stage.
A special mention goes out to their rendition of “Seasons of Love.” As a song known and adored universally by theatre lovers, Glee fans, and just about everybody, it is important to get this one just right. GTC do just that, their company putting their vocal ability to perfect use and featuring the talents of their ensemble to create a wonderful opening number for Act 2.
The costumes are impeccable. The characters don edgy clothing that complement the rest of their outfit and those of the others, convey the story perfectly, and make me consider replacing my entire wardrobe. The punk style clothing is appropriate and works on every level.
The set is quite simple but perfect none-the-less. The use of props and set enhances scenes and adds to the performance considerably, such as Angel’s excuse of a Christmas tree, but the back of the set is truly what makes it so flawless. It is a black brick wall covered in posters protesting the AIDs epidemic and in support of ACT UP group. The cast adds to these posters at the beginning of the show and they feature in every scene. They set the scene, location, and focus of the show extremely well and are a wonderful addition.
Lights and projections are also used minimally but exactly the way that they should be. A short clip of the cast is projected at the very end of the show and is an extremely lovely addition.
All in all, the show is an incredible adaption of an already brilliant show. The cast and creatives involved are to be commended on the breathtaking production they’ve put on.
If you make the very wise decision to see Grover Theatre Company’s production of Rent at Knox Community Arts Centre before it closes on Saturday October 19th, please learn from my mistakes and forgo the mascara.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.