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Review: RENT at QPAC

Review by Yasmin Elahi


QPAC’s Playhouse theatre transformed into Alphabet City for the opening night of RENT. The Tony and Pulitzer award winning musical by Jonathan Larson follows the story of a group of friends whose lives merge and connect through art, love and standing up for what they believe in.


Set design by Dann Barber was magnificent. His conceptualisation of the scenes and their placement on the stage was second to none. The main section of the set, being mainly used as the apartment, was able to be broken into sections which were deftly moved and rearranged by the cast to create differing perspectives and locations in an instant. The backdrop of the apartment complex, complete with broken blinds hanging from the windows conjured up the feel of the derelict city. The use of the fly tower to bring in set pieces contributed to the swift scene changes and transitions that overlapped scenes, meaning there was no need for lengthy blackouts. Barber brought the world of RENT to life and created a set that became another character in and of itself. 


Lighting design by Paul Jackson complemented the set and enhanced the grungy, depressing feel of the show. Lighting effects in the number ‘Contact’ were a highlight of the show. The use of red low lighting to denote passion and sin contrasted with the bright, white lighting of the angel wings which soared above as a striking visual metaphor. Another standout moment was the use of the blue light in the reprise of ‘I’ll Cover You’ to symbolise Angel. 

Costume design by Ella Butler was organic. The selection of costumes felt realistic to their socioeconomic standing and the time period of the show. The recycled costume pieces in ‘Christmas Bells’, made from rubbish, ties and recycled clothing was creative and symbolised the neighbourhood in which the show is set.


Direction by Shaun Rennie was dynamic. Having a truly wonderful set to utilise, Rennie made sure to maximise its effect by creatively activating spaces and set pieces in unique ways. For instance, using the underneath of the moving ladder to denote a phone box, changing the perspective of the main set piece to denote different apartments and maximising the use of levels all contributed to the buzzing, electric feel of the show and complemented Larsen’s contemporary orchestrations. A special moment in the show was Mimi and Roger’s duet section of ‘La Vie Boheme’, performed on the makeshift tabletop. Rennie is clearly a director who is not afraid to push creative boundaries and the perfect person to tackle a show such as RENT.


Musical director Andrew Worboys did an excellent job with the score. With numbers such as ‘La Vie Boheme’ and ‘Christmas Bells’ demanding a controlled chaotic sound, Worboys did well to ensure the ensemble blended, while still remaining chaotic. Never once did the group numbers sound messy and each cast member was confident in their vocal part. 


Choreographer Luca Dinardo brought a contemporary and eclectic feel to the show with her structured yet fluid movement and choreography. Her handling of the number ‘Will I?’ was tragic and poignant. 


Nick Afoa shone in the role of Collins. His smooth, soulful voice and dedicated acting choices conveyed his motivation and heartbreak. The reprise of ‘I’ll Cover You’ in Act Two was a touching moment. From both a vocal and acting standpoint Afoa conjured up a stillness in the audience as they hung on his every word and emotion. 


Martha Berhane was an innocent and magnetic Mimi. Vocally she excelled and her connection with Roger was believable. Audiences sympathised with her struggles and became invested in her story and wellbeing. Berhane managed to balance Mimi’s fragility and determination well and created a well-rounded and robust character. 


Carl De Villa embraced the role of Angel with pizzazz. They captivated the stage with a fiery energy but also managed to show their vulnerability in scenes where it mattered most. Their connection and chemistry with Afoa’s Collins was authentic.


Noah Mullins served as the story’s protagonist and narrator, Mark. He shepherded the audience along on his journey and served as a touchpoint for the action on stage. Mullins’ stage presence along with his faultless and controlled vocals were a joy to watch.


The absolute standout performer of the show was Calista Nelmes as Maureen. With an unbelievable voice and absolute star energy, her performance was second to none. From the moment she erupted on stage in ‘Over the Moon’ to her duet ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ which brought down the house, Nelmes had the audience under her spell. Alongside Thndo as Joanne, the pair were a powerhouse couple. 


Thndo embodied the role of Joanne with credibility. Her buttery vocals and natural charisma on stage held its own against Nelmes. The pair were perfectly matched both in stage presence, energy and vocal prowess. Once again ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ was performed with such professionalism, gusto and perfection that it is a moment in Brisbane theatre history that is not soon to be forgotten. 


The rest of the cast were as polished and professional as the leads. Everyone was dedicated in their roles and committed to their character. Together, the ensemble was strong vocally and cohesive in their movement. They worked together to move the set pieces in transitions and it was evident that the ensemble were working as a united group. Special mention to Hannah McInerney for her solo vocals in ‘Seasons of Love’. 


Overall, the opening night of RENT was a triumphant success. As soon as the final notes of the score played and the cast assembled into a tight tableau, the audience erupted in cheers and applause. The cast were met with a standing ovation from the entire theatre, both stalls and balcony were on their feet cheering on this triumphant production. It is definitely a show not to be missed and there is ‘no day but today’ to see it. 


Image Supplied

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