Even though Rent is one of the musicals that has changed my life, the musical Wicked is currently my favourite, but I always get excited for any production of Rent that is done in South Africa. Because, A, I’m a “Renthead” (a superfan of Rent) and, B, I love musicals - especially when they intersect with social issues.
Rent tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and who are trying to create a life in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/Aids. The creator Jonathan Larson tragically died before the opening night in 1996. However, his music lives on and the musical has become a theatre staple.
Rent is the Stephan Fourie Theatre Company’s first and most successful production. The set design is very accurate and although Rent is being shown in one of the smaller Artscape venues it’s still an emotional production. The cast includes some of South Africa’s young rising theatre stars.
The cast consists of Dean de Klerk (Mark Cohen), Neil Van Bergen (Roger Davis), Arlin Bantam (Tom Collins), Matthew Kriel (Benny Coffin III), Anzio September (Angel Schunard), Nadine Suliaman (Mimi Marquez), Emily Adair (Maureen Johnson) and Namisa Mdlalose (Joanne Jefferson).
The stars of the show are De Klerk, Bantam, September and Mdlalose. The chemistry between Bantam and September is positively electrifying. Out of all the couples in the musical they are the ones who make you believe in their romance. De Klerk as Mark Cohen also brought a vibrancy to the character. He is one of the few actors who has a perfect American accent and his portrayal of Mark is everything you want from the character.
Mdlalose is a vocal powerhouse and brings real gravitas to Joanne. These four performers have a bright future ahead of them and I’ll definitely be watching them to see what they do next.
On the flip side, the rest of the cast is serviceable. Suliaman gives enough to be an okay Mimi and Adair as Mimi is fine. However, both lack the amount of sex appeal needed for both characters. Adair, especially, is very forgettable. It’s not that she’s bad However, when playing Idina Menzel one needs to be believable in the role.
Kriel also doesn’t leave much of an impression and he is a quarter-tone to a semi-tone flat for most of his singing.
The biggest let down though is Neil Van Bergen as Roger Davis. Roger is supposed to be this 1990s rock front man who is a troubled soul and has a voice comprised of both grit and soul. Van Bergen never truly inhabits the character.
Look, I can forgive a lot when it comes to stage productions. Things happen and performers are taught to roll with it and keep going like nothing happened. However, being severely off pitch is not okay. Roger has some of the biggest singing parts in the show and Van Bergen’s inability to hold a tune also throws off his fellow actors. Specifically, his duet with Mimi during the song I Should Tell You. He sang an incorrect voice part, throwing Suliaman off.
Still, if you’re a fellow Renthead then watching the show is a must.
* Rent is at Artscape Arena, Artscape Theatre at 7.30pm until Saturday. Book at Computicket.