The latest production of RENT The Musical will make you laugh and cry, with plenty of heart to spare. This team has put a sharp focus on Jonathan Larson’s beautiful characters and their relationships, delivering a magical result. It is as heart-breaking as it is heart-warming. The sound and diction are fabulous. It’s visually exquisite in its vivid depiction of Alphabet City.

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RENT tells the story of a year in the life of struggling young artists in New York. They are moneyless and facing the realities of living with HIV/AIDS. They grapple with big questions – do you stay true to yourself and stay poor, or ‘sell out’ and work for ‘the man’? Do you stay monogamous? How do you have difficult conversations in relationships? How do you live with a disease that will kill you? This story has all the elements to make quite the depressing tale, and yet, it will leave you uplifted and hopeful.

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Samantha Bruzzese as Mimi is fantastic. In her first leading role, Bruzzese creates an enchanting performance. All of Bruzzese’s key moments are highlights – “Light My Candle” is sweet and fun, “Out Tonight” is sexy and seductive, “Without You” is heartbreaking. Bruzzese’s Mimi is captivating, often stealing the show. Her talent is incredible and she’s one to watch.

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Marty Alix’s Angel is stunning. Alix brings a youthful energy to the larger-than-life character, and love and joy emanate out. Alix’s Angel is not to be missed. Kala Gare as Maureen had the audience (or herd of cattle?) in the palm of her hand. Letting Maureen’s “Over the Moon” be enjoyable without any cringe is impressive, and Gare executed this wacky role delightfully.

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Evan Lever as Mark is energetic and leads this cast expertly. His reflective narration knits the show together smoothly, but he shines in his songs where he joins with others such as “Tango: Maureen”. Connor Morel as Roger creates a great foundation for his character in “One Song Glory” and maintains a consistent and passionate performance throughout.

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Dave Barclay as Collins is a gentle soul and allows the relationship with Angel to be truly special. His emotive acting hits all the right notes in Collins. As the two smaller lead roles, Zenya Carmellotti as Joanne and Cameron Steens as Benny, they fill out our band of misfits impeccably well. Carmellotti battles with all the conflict Joanne faces between the two realms of her life – work and her chosen family. Steens makes Benny’s journey back from harsh capitalist to compassionate friend touching, even within his limited stage time.

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This ensemble is versatile and generous. Lucinda Ventimiglia, Nik Murillo, Isabella Ferrer, Jye Cannon, Willow Sizer, and Nathan Fernandez step into a myriad of roles to add depth and vibrancy to the show. Each given their time to shine, they create some truly special moments. When the cast comes together for the Act 1 finale “La Vie Boheme”, the huge and endearing spirit of RENT soars. As Act 2 commences with “Seasons of Love”, the sense of community envelops you. Everybody will appreciate different aspects of this show, proving its accessibility, and audiences can be assured it is full of passion and heart in every moment.

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Freya List’s choreography is wonderful and is especially striking during “Will I?”. The live band is nestled in behind the main stage area, yet totally visible. With musical direction by Katie Weston, the band enhances all the highs and lows of the story with its rather epic performance. Marcello Lo Ricco’s sound design is clear and a real joy. Rachel Lee’s lighting is gorgeous. Many of the lights are ones that would naturally exist in this world, others fitting seamlessly into the space. It’s simply exceptional.

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Nothing feels out of place in this set. It is exciting to see the height of The Chapel being utilised here, highlighting the sprawling nature of RENT’s habitat. Chain link fences are used to create different spaces and enhance the unforgiving environment these characters reside in. The props and set are tasteful and intricate enough without becoming cluttered. Sarah Tulloch struck the balance perfectly. Kim Bishop’s costumes help tell the story of the show and add luscious texture and movement to the characters.

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RENT is an indisputable hit of a show and this James Terry production is no different. With most of their season sold out before opening night, it’s a testament not only to the timelessness of the story, but the people assembled. Under Mark Taylor’s insightful direction, RENT is an undeniable success. It’s not hard to see why RENT holds a special place in so many hearts.

This production of RENT is sure to leave RENT-heads and newcomers alike thoroughly thrilled.

RENT The Musical is on at Melbourne’s Chapel Off Chapel until 9 December 2018.

Photos by James Terry

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