Article Title:Rent packs a punch
Author or Credit:Larry Jenkins
Published on:24th August 2007 - 07:52 pm
Internet Archive link:
Story ID:4827
Text:RENT Book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson Musikmakers, Hamilton Directed by Lawrie Johnnson Musical Director Steven Smith At the Riverlea Theatre, Hamilton Productions of this rock opera seem to be spreading like mushrooms. Last year there was a Christchurch production and an Auckland one is being mooted. Meanwhile, Musikmakers, a Hamilton-based company, has put together some very young and some more experienced talent to produce a wonderfully warm and moving interpretation of this Tony- and- Pulitzer Prize- winning take on Puccini's “La Boheme” adapted as a diatribe about the AIDS epidemic. Even now, when the AIDS-related problems have taken on a different hue, RENT packs a punch. Director Lawrie Johnson and choreographer Briar Duggan (who also plays Mimi) have worked out a small-stage event which puts the performers closer than normal and allows the audience “in”. This makes the lyrics more “hearable” and faces a bit more readable, and I was very moved at times due to this proximity, I think. As the couple most directly drawn from Puccini, Duggan and her Roger, Paul Dickens, make a vocal match. Both have good voices - Dickens's voice is the best in the show – and Duggan is, of course, wonderful in the dances. Dickens overcame his relative inexperience to give a performance of emotional depth and meaning, as well as singing his heart out. New Zealand Idol, move over! Of the other voices the popular Jo Eggleton as Maureen and Kelly Jensen (Joanne) stand out with clarity as unique. Eggleton's high energy interpretation is riveting and, if it is one-dimensional, the part has a lot to blame for that. In fact, depth of character development is not the aim of this musical. As almost all of the action goes forth in song, it's the march through the subculture that's more important than any one situation. My favourite part is that of Mark, the guy who leads the pack but is alone. Jordan Mooney makes a good Jewish boy and his well-produced voice served the part well – he's a kind of singing Woody Allen. Tom Collins was played very sympathetically by Benny Marama, who, although the part sounds a bit low for him, made up for any register difficulties when he could soar, and his dancing and general movement was so distinctive that I found myself watching him a lot. His partner in love, the beautiful David Harris, played the tragic drag queen Angel with a smile all evening long, and Harris is a hot little dancer, too. Shane Herewini's good looks and charm made less of a villain out of Benny than I've come to expect, and his return to the friendly fold is thus less touching as one feels he's not really ever left it. With the exception of a bit too much out-of-tune vocalization, the music was delivered with punch and power, but I felt that the sound was badly managed. Mostly it was too loud for the small theatre, but there were many missed cues and a great deal of distortion and microphone howling. The band under the really capable direction of bass guitarist Steven Smith, kept the pace moving without a break and played very well, and the chorus members, too numerous to mention here, all had nice voices and could act well and move well. There were a number of highlights coming from their ranks, not least of all “Christmas Bells….” each and very time it appeared. The show runs until September 8. Larry Jenkins - 24th August 2007    
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