Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Rent, Feb 8, 2006

Book, Lyrics and Music by Jonathan Larson 
Stella Entertainment
National Theatre, St. Kilda, Feb 8 to Feb 25, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 8, 2006

When Rent opened, it was the first new, successful rock musical for some time. It hit the New York stage with a bang in 1996, winning four Tony Awards.

Rent has a compelling rock score by Jonathan Larson who also wrote the book and lyrics. Stella Entertainment, a high-level, amateur music theatre company, stages the first major production of Rent in Melbourne since the premiere.

Larson lived a tragic life similar to that represented in his show, Half of his impoverished, main characters live with the AIDS virus. Larson himself died from AIDS shortly before the premiere of his show.

His turn of the millennium, New York Boho culture, echoes that of Puccini’s La Boheme of the 19th century. There is even an ailing Mimi (Jessica Featherby) who arrives asking Roger (Cole Rintoul), the songwriter, to light her candle.

The singing in this production is skilful and accompanied by an accomplished onstage band with musical direction by Andrew Leach.

Peter Fitzpatrick’s direction keeps the relationships and emotional journey focal There are, however,problems with some unimaginative staging of the chorus and some awkward abstract movement sequences that pull focus from the central characters.

The choreography (Roman Berry) and dancers are capable but their costuming as painted cat-like or ghostly spirits, distracts from the urban grunge style of the show. When Angel, the transvestite victim of AIDS, returns after death as a guiding spirit, his absurd, grey tutu outfit ruins the poignancy of the scene.

Paul David Watson, as the narrator and aspiring film-maker, Mark, has a simple, charming style and bright voice.. As Roger, Cole Rintoul’s voice captures the lament of the faded rock songwriter and AIDS victim,

eatherby is raunchy as the young heroin addict, Mimi, and Phillip Haby gives resonance to Collins, the Philosophy lecturer. As his transvestite lover, Angel, Adrian Li Donni has a pure tone and vibrant presence. The fine voices and professionalism of Jessica Enes (Maureen) and Erin Keleher (Joanne) give substance to their roles. Keep an ear out for the soaring voice of featured soloist, Natalie Calia

Rent is sung through and, sometimes Larson’s recitative becomes dreary and awkward. The chorus numbers are effective, particularly the rousing La Vie Boheme and the very singable and moving song, Seasons of Love.

Larson’s narrative bumps along uncomfortably in the final half hour and his characters’ urban, squatter, anti-establishment attitudes pall, but the music and singing is terrific by this young company.

By Kate Herbert

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