Miranda Musical Theatre Company: RENT - Review by Jeffrey Victorino
The first time I ever watched RENT was in the 90s as an impressionable teenager. Now, in my 40s, as a man who knows what he likes (especially in musical theatre) and is a creature of habit, I had high expectations. Let’s face it, I may have only watched the live musical to the amount of fingers I have in 2 hands, worn out my CD of the OST, had the DVD on constant replay, and tried to watch bootleg videos of productions on YouTube, but to say that the songs and stories have resonated with me for more than 525,600 minutes of my life is a major understatement. RENT just transcends time.
The Miranda Musical Theatre Company’s (MMTC) production of RENT reminded me why I love this show so much. Under Garth Saville’s direction, the product remains true to Jonathan Larson’s original. Any diehard fan of the show will appreciate how the whole production portrays the stories of the characters through story and song in their own way while still remaining true to what is already known and loved.
In the new state-of-the-art stage of The Pavilion Performing Arts Centre (Sutherland Entertainment Centre), the company uses everything at its disposal to portray a rundown New York apartment and the village where the story takes place. The sets, the lighting, and the considerations of transitions from one scene to another were all used to bring to the audience the true essence of RENT. The props used really portrayed slum living in New York City. From spotlights to highlight solos or key areas on the second level of the stage to illuminating the whole stage as it breaks out into key rock-style songs and music, no one and nothing is left unseen. Credit to Costume Coordinator Karen Moseley because the costuming was true and on point for 90s fashion, from the grungy and leather look all the way to preppy, rich, and laid-back baggy.
Danielle Fuller’s musical direction cannot be overlooked, as every song made an impact. Especially with the big opening number of RENT, the music and the vocals were all on point, making for a big statement. However, this song wasn’t the only statement number in the show. Every ensemble performance — the heart-wrenching ‘Will I?"; the cheerful yet twisted ‘Christmas Bells"; the crowd favorite ‘La Vie Boheme"; and the devastating "I'll Cover You (Reprise)’ — were all such statements in the show. One thing done differently that I have never seen in other productions but thoroughly enjoyed was the whole cast, including the ensemble, coming out to sing the ‘Finale B" It really pieced together the camaraderie of not only what the show represents but also the connection between the cast members. A definite feel-good moment. However, one thing that left me a little unsettled was the sound quality. I feel that it still needs some kinks worked out, as the mixing felt a little unbalanced. Which is a shame because everything I heard sounded great.
You’re probably thinking, "Hey, you missed out on the most recognisable song from the show!" No, I did not. I just thought it needed to be highlighted and appreciated in its own paragraph. If not every, then most musical theatre fans know ‘Seasons Of Love'. I know I do; I even know the tenor part and sing it with confidence. I felt so included in the production tonight that I had no choice but to sing the tenor part from my seat. That, to me, is one of the truest essences of the show - inclusivity and the MMTC company executed the song so well that I had literal goosebumps. A special shout-out to ensemble member Brooke Cherie, who hit that high note in her solo with so much umph and power.
The principal cast members—Sam Anderson (Mark), Tyler Hoggard (Roger), Natasha Tsafis (Mimi), Jess Hoggard (Maureen), Rachel Amanda Thomas (Joanne), Haji Myrteza (Tom), Barry Backhouse (Angel) and Daniel Simpson (Benjamin)—all brought their own spin to their roles but also remained true to the original characters. Each principal cast member had voices that could send chills up and down your spine when they displayed their vocal abilities. When they had their time to shine, the goosebumps could not contain themselves and just appeared.
Mark and Roger’s song "What You Own" not only showed great vocal control from Anderson and Hoggard, but it also really displayed the true representation of their friendship. Tsafis' version of Mimi's ballad ‘Without You’ was beautifully sung with such emotion and feeling that you understand her pain and yearning. ‘Over The Moon’ is always a song that has been hit or miss for me, but Hoggard’s rendition of Maureen’s song not only provided a statement for the show and her character, but it was also hilarious and highlighted great comedic timing. When Joanne (Thomas) sings ‘We’re Okay’, this short, sharp, and quirky song shows off the vocal ability of Thomas as she delivers the song not only with a correct pitch but also with breathing ability. Probably one of my favourite parts of the show is ‘I’ll Cover You (Reprise)’, and tonight I was not disappointed in Myrteza's performance one bit. The emotion, the raw power in the vocals, the runs - chilling! And Angel’s (Backhouse) ‘Today 4 U’ has always been and always will be a highlight of the show; there was true artistry displayed tonight.
To me, RENT has always been a story that revolves around relationships—how the circumstances of the time brought people together despite their situations. The quality of the music and songs is just an added bonus that makes the whole experience memorable. RENT has always identified the importance of appreciating the relationship you have. Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a friendly relationship, it’s situations like these where the friends you have eventually become the family that you choose. The Miranda Musical Theatre Company’s production of RENT is definitely a must-see. If I were to give it a mark out of 5, I would give it 525,600.
Because, as Mark and Roger sing at the end of the title track, "everything is RENT!"
Photos courtesy of Grant Leslie