Theatre Review: Rent – Hayes Theatre Co, Sydney (Performances to 1st November)

RENT is just one of those musicals that everyone knows. Perhaps it’s due to the success of the film, or perhaps just because it’s story and characters are so resonating, but it has clearly become a mainstay staple in musical theatre 101s. For whatever reason it is also a musical that I had actually never seen performed, so thank-you Hayes Theatre Co for giving me that opportunity and being able to see it for the first time with such an utterly perfect cast.

For it is the cast of characters in RENT that is really critical to the success of the production. You need to feel that empathy for Mark’s ambition, Rodger’s desperation, Mimi’s brokenness, Angel’s hope, Collin’s love… You need to be able to feel what they feel and understand the emotion through each of the voices.

The story, for those unfamiliar, follows a group of bohemian friends desperately trying to make ends meet in a harsh world. They are struggling artists, fighting against the times and against the HIV virus (of which some are positive). Amidst their struggles the friends lean on each other for support and retain optimism that you need to keep your head up else life will just pass without you. It’s touching and very open and real.

The Hayes is perhaps an ideal venue for the apartment of East Village, its darkened brick walls and the closeness of the space bringing us right into the heart of the friend’s apartment. It also means that you are able to clearly see the important expressions on faces no matter where you are seated. The band is place on stage, behind caged screens, which again suits that “real” atmosphere.

But it is the cast that are the standouts here, every single member brings such a strong performance.

Stephen Madsen as Mark narrates our tale, and we look to him for guidance and understanding as the tale progresses.Linden Furnell as Roger is utterly faultless, his angst-filled musician feelings reaching out through the strength of his vocals. He is matched well with Loren Hunter, who brings such a raw ticking time bomb of a Mimi to the stage- her movements catlike and unpredictable, her voice husky and seductive with just a little bit of sadness to it. Her “Without You” is without a doubt my most favourite version of my favourite song from the musical. I cried.

Angel (Christopher Scalzo) and Collins (Nana Matapule) are utterly adorable, and those voices! Angel takes the crowd and makes them fall in love with her, and the besotted Collins has this voice that seems so mature and warm that I felt like I could listen to it all night. Laura Bunting as Maureen is wild and crazy, and Casey Donovan as her lover Joanne is simply fabulous. Her voice is so powerful and their mad-hat duet “Take Me or Leave Me” was a clear favourite of the evening.

Everyone is supported by a really outstanding ensemble who jumps through an array of roles and show off their own abilities in various moments of solo.

Not even an unfortunate (but somewhat amusing) fire evacuation just before intermission could put a dampen on this spectacular production of Rent at Hayes Theatre. It is exactly the production I needed to see to understand why everyone loves this musical so much. Because now, I’ve fallen in love with it too.

There’s no day like today to go see RENT at the Hayes Theatre Co! Performances till November 1st. For more information visit www.hayestheatre.com.au

The reviewer attended Opening Night on 13th October.

You can read our interview with Linden (who plays Roger) over here: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/interviews/actor-musician-linden-furnell…

Photo credit (c) Kurt Sneddon