The cast of RENT photo by Pia Johnson PhotographyRent is a visually entertaining production with a talented cast. Written by Jonathan Larson, Rent is loosely based on the 1896 opera La bohème. It is set in Lower Manhattan’s East Village where of a group of impoverished young artists struggle to survive and create a life, while living under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

The two female leads, Martha Berhane as Mimi and Calista Nelmes as Maureen stole the show. Their powerful voices resonated through the theatre with power and emotion.

Berhane manoeuvred her way downstairs and steep ladders wearing high heels without missing a beat. Her overdose scene was one of the most convincing near death scenes I have witnessed on stage. Performed with genuineness and sensitivity.

Nelmes version of Over the Moon was a sensory overload and she managed to have the audience mooing at the end of the number.

Carl de Villa as Angel did an adequate job, however the chorography for the solo, Today 4 You, lacked the fiery, intense drag queen vibe. With such an amazing rock and roll score there was so much scope to choreographically add tension, desire and passion, but it was all a bit vanilla.

Costuming by Ella Butler had some clever and original moments. Nelmes costume for Over the Moon was complete with 6 breasts and a hair piece made from plastic bags. Costumes for the market scene cleverly had cast members dressed in ties, coats, handbags and magazines.

Director, Shaun Rennie, has incorporated a religious element to this production which reflects the way the Catholic Church engaged in the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s. The scene in which cast members create the image from the Last Supper was clever.

And as Carl de Villa, as Angel, sang their last words with giant angel wings suspended behind it had the feel of Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar while paying homage to Angels in America.

Unfortunately, while the cast are without a doubt exceptional singers the connection between characters and creating an emotional link with the audience was just not there. When it came to the emotional climatic endings of relationships in the show… I just didn’t care!

If you have never seen Rent, it’s a chance to gain a historical insight into the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s. The visually imagery and homage to the history of the time is engaging. The score written by Jonathan Larson will have you wanting to download the album in the car on your way home.

His Majesty’s Theatre, 905 Hay Street, Perth
Performance: 14 May 2024
Season continues to 25 May 2024

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Image: The Cast of Rent – photo by Pia Johnson Photography

Review: Craig Dalglish