I love a good musical but I’m rarely tempted to dance in my seat when watching one live at the theatre. The last time I did this was when I saw Fame at the Civic Theatre more than 10 years ago – and I almost did it again when I went to see the 20th-anniversary production of RENT. With catchy tunes and convivial performances, it was difficult not to stomp my feet a little.
For those unfamiliar with RENT, it’s a mid-90s retelling of Giacomo Puccini’s 19th-century opera La Bohème that follows eight young New Yorkers facing unemployment, homelessness, infidelity and drug use. The musical’s most prevalent topic, however, is HIV/AIDS, which afflicts four of the characters.
Two of them, recovering drug addict Roger (Neil van Bergen) and philosopher Collins (Arlin Bantam), live with aspiring Jewish filmmaker Mark (Dead de Klerk). Their former roommate Benny (Matthew Kriel) is now their affluent landlord. Roger meets his HIV-positive, drug-addicted neighbour Mimi (Nadine Suliaman), on the same evening that Collins meets the AIDS-afflicted drag queen Angel (Anzio September).
Added to the mix are Mark’s promiscuous ex-girlfriend, performance artist Maureen (Emily Adair), and her new girlfriend, the lawyer Joanne (Namisa Mdlalose). All these characters – struggling artists and thinkers – are definitely modern-day bohemians, as illustrated in the tune ‘La Vie Bohème‘, performed in front of the snooty, (now) upper-class Benny. The song also demonstrates the musical’s emphasis on community as do the lyrics of ‘Life Support’ and ‘I Will’, sung at a meeting for HIV/AIDS sufferers. The various performances by the entire company are moving, especially their rendition of ‘Rent’ and the classic ‘Seasons of Love’. But the talent of each cast member was made obvious by the numerous solos and duets – among the solos, Mimi’s ‘Out Tonight’ and Angel’s ‘Today for You’ stole the show.
The focus of RENT isn’t limited to New York or the USA, though. Its appearance on a South African stage is as important as it is exciting. In this revival, the audience is made aware of just how talented our young performers are, and we’re reminded of the importance togetherness and community have in helping us cope with various afflictions. if you think this is just another run-of-the-mill toe-tapping musical, think again. It’s also poignant, relevant and not-to-be-missed.
When Friday 17 February 2017 – Saturday 25 February 2017 7:30 pm
Where Artscape Theatre Centre, D.F. Malan Street, Foreshore
Cost R295 at Computicket
Contact +27 21 410 9800, [email protected], artscape.co.za
Photography Courtesy images