Double Review: Rent

4 years ago
Stacey Waters

Two of our reviewers were quite keen to go see Rent! One because they’ve heard one song from it and liked it and were kinda interested to see what exactly it was about. And the other because they have a slightly obsession with operas and anything based off one must be good, right? Luckily, those two are housemates so we sent them both! Which means, two reviews!

Rent is one of those musicals that will always draw a crowd – and as a result needs to be done very well. Fortunately for all parties involved, this production of Rent is very well done. The musicians were strong and professional, the acting and singing was strong, and the intimate setting – which was impressive for a large audience – allowed for some audience interaction and really closed the gap between performer and audience. Definitely something to check out if you like bohemians, musicals, cool dancing, or good shows in general.

Based on Puccini’s opera La Boheme, Rent focusses on a series of bohemians who live in a New York loft. All have a variety of problems, whether that be infection with AIDS, romantic entanglement and relationship difficulties, drug addiction, or the general bankruptcy that accompanies a creative lifestyle. On the peripheries, homeless are abused by corrupt cops, landlords try in vain to get them to pay rent or at least do something constructive with their lives, and they all have dreams that seemingly vanish into the ether as life catches up to them.

So maybe not the upbeat and frilly musical you take your grandmother to. It is based on an opera though, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The musicians themselves (the driving force behind any musical performance) were an interesting mix. Primarily a rhythm section, they would occasionally play other instruments (such as percussion) when required, which added cool bits of texture. Even though there was only a small ensemble, the sound was never thin – most likely due to the heroic efforts of the keyboardists in using multiple sounds. There were also some pre-recorded versions of songs (sans singing of course), although it was impossible to tell the difference between them.

The only problem with the music itself was the singing – and even that problem it wasn’t the singers at fault. The issue was that sometimes the microphones wouldn’t be loud enough to pick up the individual words. Whilst during songs where there was only one singer and not a lot of musical texture this was not so much of an issue (with the exception of Mimi’s performer – sometimes she was drowned out entirely by the music), in songs where there was more than one singer – or the chorus – then individual singers were drowned out. This was more of a problem with microphone levels than the singers themselves, which for some reason seemed to be turned down to such a level that the singer’s voices were stronger than the amplification.

The ambience and staging of the show was very well done as well. The audience was split into two different sections across the room, and the performers would dance and move between the aisles constantly. The dark and gritty props and stage were very well done as well, lending to the bleak and artistic nature of the musical. There were plenty of moving props as well – a window that descended and ascended as needed, telephones, beds, and other such props were all well done and added to the ambience of the performance.

Also, Donald Trump’s face watching the audience and the play through a window was mildly disconcerting.

The only problem with the split audience approach was related to the microphone troubles. For singers who were on one side of the stage, regardless of how strong their voice was, it would be lost somewhat to the other side of the room. Which relates back to the problem of good microphone balance – had there been stronger speakers or amplification, the issue wouldn’t have happened.

Overall, a very good rendition of the musical. Rent is definitely something you should look into if you want a great night out with strong music. Despite some of the microphone troubles, the plot, ambience, and music are more than enough to carry the show, and make for a fun show.

-Aidan Johnson


A sea of worn denim, second-hand doc martins and artists trying to make their big statements, combined with songs that will remain in your head long after the show and the worry and anxiety over characters suffering from HIV. That’s right, we went and saw Rent.

It’s hard to go wrong with such a classic musical, loosely based upon the quite tragic opera La Bohème by Giacomo Puccino. The Arts Academy’s version well lives up to the positive associations and joy that resonates from the original Broadway production of Rent. The focus of the musical is a group of bohemian’s living within an art space building in New York, their struggles with paying the rent for the building and the overhanging fear of HIV and homelessness that surrounds the storyline.

The space within the Athenaeum Theatre has been used well, a large portion of the room used as the stage of sorts, with rigging and ladders at one side that the cast routinely climb and slide down during song numbers. The audience is spread out on both sides, with the cast members continually moving between and interacting with those at the front.

The close quarters of the stage and audience create a genuine feeling of intimacy to the production; the large musical numbers have cast members dancing up close to the audience, singing straight to them. Unlike some musicals, the layout of this one ensures all audience members receive the same view and experience.

The cast members themselves are all very strong within their parts, in both acting and singing, with many of them switching roles in-between scenes to portray multiple characters. The only momentary downside came during a few songs in which the vocals throughout songs were drowned out by the music. Most of these occur only during the all in musical numbers where many voices are purposely layered over each other, but unfortunately a solo song by ‘Mimi’ leaves one side of the audience unsure of what exactly she is singing about as the music drowns her out quite noticeably.

The focus of the play has always been an interesting one – arguably the main cast’s list of problems (having to pay rent, trying to establish oneself through art) are minimized by the sideline issues that the homeless face within the production. It adds a clever sense of clarity, more realized when the parents of the main characters call to worry over their children and the homeless characters struggle to find heat, blankets or shelter during the snow.

Of course, the main worry throughout is the threat of HIV that many of the characters face, set during the time of the 80’s this was a much more dire issue than today. The characters all react differently to their predicament – some choosing to wallow in pity and despair while others choose to live and make the best of it while they can. These emotions are portrayed brilliant by the cast, arguable the majority of the audience left hoping for the best for the range of characters.

The Arts Academy’s production of Rent is incredibly enjoyable, the songs are catching and well performed, the storylines are emotional and well acted and the space itself works to project the atmosphere needed to the audience. A must-see for musical lovers within Melbourne.

-Stacey Waters


Rent is showing at the Athenaeum Theatre from 28th April to 6th May. Tickets can be purchased here.


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