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Stage Review: SUTD’s RENT

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A shot of Alphabet City in NYC, the inspiration for Larson’s RENT.

Rent starts abruptly. The entire cast walks on stage at the same time unannounced and goes about their business silently as the audience looks on, wondering what’s going on. Some of the crew members even make appearances and interact with the actors and members of the band. This start to the show perfectly sets the stage for the next two hours and twenty minutes. Rent is going to get your attention in unexpected ways and it’s going to communicate its message to you whether you’re ready or not.

As soon as Kevin Hanley (who plays Mark Cohen) delivers his first line, the atmosphere in the theatre changes. As the show officially starts, you can sense that you’re about to witness something very special happen right before your eyes on stage. The show’s incredible energy bursts through very early on when the title number “Rent” is performed. That same gripping, boundless and infectious energy hangs on for the rest of the show. Even in moments of sadness, mournfulness and fear there is a passionate and emotionally charged energy that makes you feel like you’re witnessing life unfold right before your eyes.

The main cast play off of each other flawlessly. Matt Bittner (Roger), Kevin J.P. Hanley (Mark), Rory Lambert-Wright (Tom Collins), Elainy Mata (Mimi), Matthew Solomon (Angel), Erica Wisor (Maureen), Asha Hirsi (Joanne) and Andrew John Bourque (Benjamin Coffin III) all band together and give unbelievable performances that truly bring the show to life. Their portrayals of their characters draw you in in such a way that you develop an investment in their stories instantaneously. Aside from the main cast, the members of the ensemble (Kelly Roper, Kane Harper, Morgan Pritchard, Lindsay Tomas, Peter Firek, Olivia Lowe, Ivan Michel Cuevas and Adriana Zuniga) deliver amazing performances and keep the energy and emotion of the show going.

The technical elements of the show all work together seamlessly as well. Director Paul Melone (of the SpeakEasy Stage Company) has managed to bring this astounding and moving show to life with the help of musical director and Suffolk Vocal Coach Scott Nicholas and choreographer David Connolly. The scenic design by Professor Richard Chambers is eye catching and provides a beautiful and functional setting for Rent. A congratulations also has to be extended to Junior Lauren Burke, the production stage manager, and everyone who’s worked behind the scenes, including her Assistant’s Annalise Fosnight and Jake Marino to make this show possible. Their hard work and dedication has truly paid off.

You don’t have to be familiar with Rent to connect to this production. You’ll find a character or a song or an issue that you can internalize and hold on to. Rent’s main message centers around the importance of love, acceptance and creating art. There are also strong tones regarding the need to treat AIDS and the importance of bringing that issue to the foreground of more social discussions. There’s also a call to advocate for social change. These humanitarian messages make Rent even more touching and impactful. You leave this show wishing that it didn’t have to end. There’s something in this production for everyone to love and I encourage everyone to experience it while you still have the chance. After all, there’s “no day but today”.

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