Travels With JB

Travels With JB

Travel news and reviews

A story which pulls at the heartstrings told by a talented and enthusiastic cast just about ensures a rapturous response from the audience.

The cast of Rent currently playing at Melbourne’s State Theatre.*

So, the standing ovation the all-new production of the iconic musical Rent received at Melbourne’s State Theatre on opening night was no surprise.

Written in the 1990s by Jonathan Larson, who tragically died hours before the show’s opening, Rent is a modern update of Puccini’s classic La bohème. As such the themes of love, friendship, poverty and illness and death are at the core of the two-and-a-half-hour musical.

Set in Manhattan’s East Village in the late 1980s, Rent follows the ups and downs of a group of impoverished, artistic friends over a 12-month period.

Mark Mullins (Noah) and Jerrod Smith  (Roger).*

Their story is narrated by Mark (Noah Mullins), a struggling documentary maker.  Mark shares a house with his best friend Roger (Jerrod Smith) who discovers he has HIV/AIDS in a note left by his former girlfriend, who has committed suicide. A musician, he wants to write one great song before he dies.

He meets and is immediately attracted to 19-year-old Mimi (Martha Berhane). She works in a strip club, is addicted to heroin and also has HIV/AIDS.

Thndo (Joanne) and Calista Nelmes (Maureen).*

Meanwhile Mark is getting over being dumped by his girlfriend Maureen (Calista Nelmes), a performing artist. She is now going out with Joanne (Thndo) a Harvard-educated public interest lawyer and activist. Like Maureen, Joanne is strong willed and determined.

Another of Mark’s friends is professor of computer-age philosophy Collins (Nick Afoa), who is also infected with HIV/AIDS. Attacked in the street he is helped by and subsequently falls in love with caring drag queen and street musician Angel (Carl De Villa). She, too, is ill.

Benny (Tana Laga’aia) used to be Mark and Roger’s roommate, but he married into a rich family. Now, he is their landlord and wants the rent they haven’t paid for a year. He offers to waive that rent if they stop a protest Maureen is planning following his decision to evict the homeless from a lot where he wants to build a cyber arts studio. Mark and Roger refuse. Rent then follows the impact of this decision as well as the loves and failing health of Mark’s friends.

Mark Mullins (Noah) centre and the cast of Rent.*

While parts of the story are rather grim and sad there’s plenty of love and tenderness.  There are also some humorous moments especially numbers which feature Nelmes as Maureen. Some of the biggest cheers on the night came for her presentation of Over the Moon while her presentation of Take Me or Leave Me with Thndo was another highlight.

The rendition of Seasons of Love, arguably Rent’s best-known song, was another crowd pleaser.

The cast of Rent performing Seasons of Love.*

The hardworking cast of 18 and on-stage band never wavered in their energy levels and excellent presentation of the show’s 40 odd songs. At the same time given the reliance on music to tell much of the story first time attendees may get a little confused. As my companion commented: “I loved the show, it’s full of energy, great music and such an enthusiastic cast but I wasn’t always sure what was going on!”

For this reason, first time Rent attendees  may do well to familiarise themselves with the characters. Then, like already committed Rent fans, they will have a greater understanding of this entertaining revival of a show which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, along with four Tony Awards that year, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score.

Rent is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre until March 10. It then plays at Newcastle from March 15 to 17, Perth from May 11 to 19 and Canberra from June 7 to 13.  Visit the Rent website for more information and tickets.

Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Rent as a guest of the producers.

*Photo credit: Pia Johnson Photography.


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