RENT: Rich and Emotional

Tina White

RENT Rich and Emotional

Reviewed by Tina White

I haven’t been able to get the words “525,600 minutes” out of my head since halfway into the Abbey Musical Theatre’s opening performance of RENT, the rock opera/musical last night.

The lyrics are part of Seasons of Love, one of the show’s most poignant songs.

There are 525,600 minutes in a year, and the story tells of 12 months in the life of a group of modern day “bohemians” – men and women, gay and straight, living with poverty and AIDS in New York’s east village district in the 1990s.

There’s Angel, the angelic drag queen; Collins, the drop-out professor; Roger, the one time rock star scarred by tragedy; Mimi, beautiful but seemingly doomed; Joanne, in love with the outrageous bisexual flirt Maureen; and Mark, who is making a movie about their lives.  In this atmosphere, their anthem can’t help but be, “no day but today”.

The scenario might sound grim, but RENT, with its multi layered vocals, lovingly drawn characters and evocative setting, is a rich, powerfully emotional experience – and one its young cast amply delivers.

At the start of last night’s show, the players seemed to take a moment to gather themselves together, like the run up to a leap; then wow!  The leap became a soar.

Led by director Scott Andrew, who also plays landlord and ex-flatmate Benny, the ensemble has passion and confidence and will grow even stronger throughout the season.

Even the support players are right there in the moment at all times on stage.

There are wonderful voices in this production and even where some are not quite as strong as others, it’s made up for in presentation – a tribute to the director and to musical director Al Warren.

Choreographer Rocky Rowland has also managed to create a seamless flow of movement on the Abbey Theatre’s small stage.

The core characters are Phillip Gurney (Mark), Richard Scott (Roger), Edan Hunt (Mimi), Richard Rewa (Tom Collins), Liam Taylor (Angel), Renee Pink (Maureen) and Janine Bonny (Joanne).

A modern take on the classic opera La Boheme, RENT is a show with a now legendary history – writer-composer-lyricist Jonathan Larson spent many years, if not exactly in a garret, then certainly in a freezing New York studio apartment, honing and workshopping his musical project, only to die of an aortic aneurysm the night before the show’s triumphal 1996 opening.

RENT’s still running on Broadway to this day (it’ll finally close in September after 12 years).

The programme has a full synopsis of the story for anyone not familiar with the show - but run, don’t walk, to book a seat at this production.

I plan to go again.