When RENT first opened on Broadway in 1994 is was considered to be a revolutionary musical for young people. The Broadway production ran for twelve years.

It would seem that decades later, RENT remains a popular musical for young people. According to Jeremy Stanford, the students of Ballarat’s Federation University have been requesting to stage a production of RENT for the past eight years.

Stanford has been assigned the task of directing RENT with Federation University’s graduating Bachelor of Music Theatre class. He feels this year the course has the right group of students to take on RENT.

“It requires a certain skill set in the students to be able to do it. You know, some musical theatre kids don’t have the right kind of rock voices to do it justice, so I think this year they all identified the right kind of voices,” commented Stanford.

“They absolutely adore the fact that they’re doing it and they’re all super excited, “ said Stanford.

“It speaks to young people because it has a sense of rage against the machine at its centre. When RENT first opened the rage was about the AIDS epidemic and the arts being evicted from Alphabet City – that kind of dislocation – but the production that we’ve decided to do, to make it relevant to us, we’ve chosen inequality as our kind of rage point of reference,” Stanford explained.

Stanford hasn’t changed a word in the script, but said they have changed their viewpoint.

“Everything we’ve done in our research, and how we feel about the show, we’ve replaced the AIDS epidemic with their position on inequality. These kids coming out of college are going into a world where all of the wealth is tied up in an older generation. So we’ve done lots of research on it, and we’ve talked lots about it, so that when they rage against anything in the show, that’s what it is.”

Being students of a Bachelor of Music Theatre, Stanford said these students know a lot about musicals, despite the fact they have probably never seen RENT performed as a professional production.

“It’s a music theatre course, so all of them are well versed in musical theatre. It’s part of their study to know musicals … and RENT‘s a young person’s musical. It’s the equivalent of Hamilton twenty years ago, in a sense. Kids now adore Hamilton because it speaks to them and twenty years ago the same thing happened with RENT. I remember it because it was kind of my era and I remember loving it too. And nothing’s changed. They still have this wonderful grasp of the show.”

Jeremy Stanford

Director Jeremy Stanford

While Jeremy Stanford feels this production of RENT remains very relevant for young people, he hopes the older generation will also come and see it.

“I think it’s a really good thing to be shaken up sometimes and to be reminded of that youthful energy that the show’s got.”

The one aspect of the show that Stanford has changed for this production is to create a more ensemble piece.

“We’re all very much telling the story – that’s one of the strongest things about this production … they’re all there and they’re all participating.”

With a large cohort of final year students, two casts have been assembled.

“I tried to make the casts as even as possible,” said Stanford, who explained he tossed a coin in front of them to decide which cast would do the opening and closing nights to ensure there was no favouritism.

Regardless of which performance audiences attend, they will be witnessing the very start of the careers of our next generation of musical theatre performers.

In the words of Jeremy Stanford, “You never know who you’re going to see!”

28 April to 6 May
Times: Wed – Sat 8pm, Sat 1:30pm
Tickets: $50 Adult, $40 Concession, $35 Grps 10+, $10 FedUni Student
Bookings: 03 5327 8605 or online at http://m.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=RENTTVIC17
Venue: Athenaeum 2 – 188 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD