Cast of RENT (c) Pia Johnson Photography

Experience the Power of RENT

A Musical Journey That Hits All the Right Notes

Reviewed by Brendan Daynes

In the heart of Alphabet City, where the pulse of 1996 New York City beats relentlessly, RENT takes centre stage in a modern interpretation that promises to stir the soul of both die-hard fans and newcomers alike. Directed by Shaun Rennie, this production breathes new life into Jonathan Larson’s iconic musical, infusing it with fresh energy and innovative touches that captivate from start to finish.

From the very first moment, the audience is thrust into the lives of a group of friends in New York City’s Alphabet City, grappling with love, friendship, and loss amidst the backdrop of the 1990s AIDS crisis. As they confront their individual dreams, wrestle with the intricacies of relationships, and grapple with the harsh realities of HIV/AIDS, their bonds grow stronger, serving as pillars of support amid adversity. Through their shared experiences and unwavering camaraderie, they discover the resilience of the human spirit and the enduring power of love in the face of overwhelming challenges.

Noah Mullins delivers a captivating portrayal of Mark, the struggling filmmaker, infusing the character with depth and sincerity as he navigates the complexities of relationships and artistic ambition. Jerrod Smith’s performance as Roger is equally compelling, capturing the character’s inner turmoil and emotional journey with nuance and authenticity. Martha Berhane shines as Mimi, bringing a raw vulnerability and fierce determination to the role. Nick Afoa embodies the warmth and resilience of Collins with poise and charisma, perfectly paired with Carl De Villa’s portrayal of Angel, which is truly transformative, radiating with infectious energy and profound tenderness as they portray an inseparable couple. Calista Nelmes dazzles as the outspoken and boldly protesting artist Maureen, bringing a dynamic presence to the role, while Thndo shines as her girlfriend, Joanne, infusing her character with a vibrant energy and astute wit. Benny, portrayed by Tana Laga’aia, exudes a sense of authority and conflict as he grapples with loyalty, ambition, and the consequences of his choices amidst the dynamic relationships of the group. The ensemble, comprised of Anna Francesca Armenia, Kelsi Boyden, Josslynn Hlenti, Lawrence Hawkins, Hannah McInerney, Sam Richardson, Chat Rosete, and Theodore Williams, elevate the production with their exceptional talent and commitment to their characters, creating a rich tapestry of life in Alphabet City and ensuring that every moment onstage is both captivating and emotionally resonant.

One of the most striking elements of the production is the creative use of choreography, which infuses the show with a playful energy that is both infectious and exhilarating. From the electrifying and upbeat numbers like La Vie Boheme to the subtle movements that convey the characters’ inner turmoil during No Day But Today, every step is executed with precision and grace. It’s a testament to choreographer Luca Dinardo’s vision and the dedication of the cast that these moments resonate so powerfully with the audience.

Costume designer Ella Butler’s choice to incorporate muted tones and inventive designs adds a layer of authenticity to the production, particularly in the portrayal of the homeless residents of Alphabet City. Each costume tells a story, reflecting the struggles and resilience of the characters as they navigate the harsh realities of urban life. Dann Barber’s set design is a triumph of simplicity and versatility, effortlessly transporting the audience from the cramped confines of a bohemian apartment to the bustling streets of New York City. The use of multi-functional set pieces and the clever lighting cues of Paul Jackson, enhances the immersive experience, allowing the audience to journey alongside the characters as they navigate the ups and downs of city life.

Every detail of this production, from the powerful vocals to the meticulously choreographed movements, has been carefully orchestrated to connect with audiences on a profound level. By incorporating a touch of operatic flair into the vocals, the music takes on a new depth, enveloping the expansive space with raw emotion, bringing Jonathan Larson’s poignant lyrics to life with authenticity and resonance. But perhaps the true heart lies in the story’s exploration of love, loss, and the enduring power of human connection. At its core, Larson’s tale is a celebration of the bonds that tie us together, even in the face of adversity.

RENT is a a triumph of contemporary musical theatre that promises to captivate and deeply move audiences. It stands as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the enduring strength of love in the face of adversity. One cannot help but be struck by the sheer power and beauty of Larson’s storytelling. His words, skilfully brought to life by the talented cast and creative team, are a celebration of life, love, and the unyielding fortitude of the human soul that resonate with a timeless relevance that surpasses the limitations of time and place.

Rent is currently playing at the Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre until 7th March 2024 before heading to Newcastle, Perth, and Canberra from March 2023. To purchase tickets or learn more about the show, please visit

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