Jonathan Larson’s Rent was an ambitious choice for BUSMS’s first musical of the year. It is set in 1980s ‘Alphabet City,’ New York where impoverished and bohemian artists struggle to live in a world dominated by HIV/Aids, money troubles and the overhanging threat of eviction. The show is a dazzling success; tackling complex societal issues in a mature way whilst also leaving the audience in hysterics in a performance that radiates the energy of late 1980s New York.
In her debut as a full Director, Gabby Bianco stages the cast extremely effectively using the breadth of the stage to its fullest extent. Kit Pethel steps up to the role of Rock ‘n’ Roller, Roger Davis who, while searching for a musical epiphany, finds instead a Mimi Marquez – played beautifully by Nina Jones. The pair’s nuanced portrayal of a complex relationship interjected with gorgeous duets was a particular highlight! Lodging with Roger, aspiring filmmaker Mark Cohen, played by a charismatic Mat Hall, attempts to make sense of the madness though his camera lens. Throughout the show he is faced with a relatable dichotomy between a corporate job and artistic freedom.
The biggest tear jerker of the show was undoubtedly Alex Stokoe playing the role of drag queen Angel Dumott, who finds joy in life despite suffering from, and eventually succumbing to HIV/AIDS. Throughout the show Alex holds a huge stage presence and belts out some incredible solos. He is complemented on stage by Alex Yelland who plays anarchist professor, Tom Collins and together they create an intimate relationship whose emotional rollercoaster leaves the audience spellbound. In stark contrast, the biggest laughs of the night came from a powerful if psychedelic performance of Over the Moon by veteran thesp Hollie Christian-Brookes who plays Maureen Johnson. Hollie’s potent gravitas whilst on stage reflects a natural talent to act. Maureen struggles in a fiery relationship with Joanne Jefferson who is played by the incredibly talented Georgia Blessit.
The closest thing to a villain of the show is the property-owning, bourgeoisie and thoroughly objectionable Benjamin Coffin III. Played by horribly convincing Barneby Lamper, Benjamin threatens eviction to his previous friends Roger and Mark and his previous love interest with Mimi nearly means the end for her and Roger.
The skills of the principal actors are commendable however the show would be nothing without the energetic and engaging ensemble cast, as their wonderful singing and dancing laid the foundation for the shows success. Kudos must go to assistant director, Adele O’Callaghan who choreographed the cast with such precision. The band, the sinews that hold a musical together were also of fantastic quality, never noticeably missing a beat. Big shout out to backstage and lighting too who created an adequately grotty atmosphere. The rest of the production team, Musical Directors Maria Carnarius and Arianne Morin as well as Producer, Rebecca Branch must also be commended for playing such an integral part in creating a truly wonderful show.
The show tackles huge social questions: HIV/Aids, drugs, gentrification, death, love, and career choices and so leaves the theatre goer in a reflective state. However the harmonious combination of music, song, dance, and acting also make for an incredibly entertaining evening. It was an absolute delight to watch from start to finish, as such a fine balance of entertainment and meaning is more often found in a professional outfit rather than in student drama. The bar has just been set extremely high for future BUSMS performances this year.
Did you get a chance to see RENT? Tell us what you thought!