Orpheus tells us it’s time to pay the RENT
Rent is Orpheus Musical Theatre’s latest high energy, all-singin’, all-dancin’ extravaganza. Based loosely on Puccini’s classic tragic opera, La Bohème, Rent tells the story of a group of poor artists living in New York City’s East Village in the early 1990s; they struggle with the threat of eviction, lack of recognition of their artistic endeavours, drug addiction, and AIDS (at least half of the characters are HIV positive).
Pretty grim stuff, you might say. After all, this is based on an opera, so you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the show is not going to be a barrel of laughs. But on that count you would be wrong. With songs that soar, some nifty dance moves, and a truly talented cast, under the direction of Nicole Milne, Rent will draw you in, get you seat-dancing, laughing, and yes, OK, crying.
The story opens on Christmas Eve. It’s 9:00 PM, and aspiring film director and the show’s narrator, Mark (Brennan Richardson) is filming his roommate Roger (Derek Eyamie) for a new documentary. The two find out that their old friend, now their landlord, Benny (Stefan Keyes) is going back on his word and wants the rent for the past year. This leads to the show’s rousing title number where they vow not to pay, and opens up the debate about the artistic life versus the commercial.
This being a musical, it’s not long before love is in the air, with sometime philosophy professor, Tom Collins (Maxim David) being helped after a mugging by the appropriately named Angel (Jeremy Saunders), a street musician/drag queen with quite the wardrobe, including a sassy Mrs. Claus outfit. Roger, shattered by the suicide of his girlfriend and his HIV status, is tempted to try love again by the arrival of neighbour, Mimi, an exotic dancer (Andréa Black). As for Mark, he’s mourning the loss of his fiery performing artist girlfriend, Maureen (Devon O’Reilly) to lawyer Joanne (Rebecca Abbott). Let the wooing begin and the lessons about “Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.”
Derek Eyamie, Devon O’Reilly, and Rebecca Abbott are the vocal standouts, with stirring numbers, “One Song Glory”, “Over the Moon”, and “Take Me or Leave Me” showcasing their talent. Andréa Black displays an athletic litheness, as well as singing chops in “Out Tonight”, while Brennan Richardson and Rebecca Abbott mix humour and some sexy dance moves in “Tango Maureen”. “La Vie Bohème” performed by the entire company is an absolute showstopper, as is “Seasons of Love”, perhaps the best-known song from the production. They do not disappoint.
Act Two is decidedly darker than the first, and the cast makes the transition from the light-hearted cheekiness and sexiness of the first half to more sombre themes. Get your hankies out; you’re going to need them.
The innovative set, designed by Jennifer Donnelly, evokes the squalor of the Lower East Side, and is put to imaginative use by the cast.
One small quibble with the production is that at times, the band, which is terrific (conducted by James Caswell), sometimes drowns out the cast. Hopefully, this was just a glitch on opening night, and will be fixed in future performances.
Orpheus has outdone itself with Rent. Make sure you catch it.
March 6-10 at 7:30; March 11 at 2:00 PM at Centrepointe Theatre
For tickets: 613-580-2700 or www.centrepointetheatre.ca