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Review: RENT! presented by UCL Musical Theatre Society

Review: RENT! presented by UCL Musical Theatre Society

Pihla Pekkarinen shares her experience viewing the energetic and emotive production

The air, filled with purple smoke, is buzzing with anticipation. It’s the closing night of UCL Musical Theatre Society’s Term 1 production of RENT!, and the show is completely sold out. The expectations are high and the pressure is on.

RENT! is Jonathan Larson’s high-energy rock musical about poverty, sexuality, and addiction in New York City which shook the musical theatre world in the 1990s. An incredible success both on stage, with a 12-year run on Broadway, and on film. The shoes of this cult classic are not easy to fill – but the cast and crew of this production rise to the challenge.

The humour and charm of Mark, played by Matt Ginno, provides a perfect narrative frame for this sung-through musical. The incredibly strong cast enchant and entertain for the entire duration of the show, sending shivers down the spine again and again. Christian Thevathasan and Catrin Harris steal the show as Angel and Maureen, with heart-stopping solos and remarkable passion. In particular, Harris’s duet of “Take Me or Leave Me” with Joanne, played by Ahilya Murkunde, channels the anger, love, hurt, and frustration of them both, emotions familiar to anyone who has had a relationship go south. The voices and near to flawless American accents of the entire cast never fail to impress as they hit each and every high note and run.

The weaknesses of this production lie not with the cast, but with the crew. The sound design makes the first half of the show nearly unintelligible, as the mikes of the cast are constantly changing volumes and occasionally even switching off. In “Light My Candle”, one of the most iconic songs in the musical, the actors can neither be seen nor heard even from central seats, as the mic volumes remain too low and the excessive amounts of fog on stage mask the tension and intimacy the actors are creating between their characters. Similarly, “Today 4 U”, Angel’s showstopping solo, is marred by hollow-sounding pre-recorded music which takes away from the incredible energy and talent of Christian Thevathasan. The costumes occasionally miss the mark, with ‘homeless’ outfits consisting of some khaki parkas and pristine Adidas sneakers, but other times completely hit the nail on the head, presenting us with a perfect replica of Angel’s iconic Christmas dress, or dress up the cast in sexy black lingerie for convincing ‘Cat Scratch’ dancers.

Despite all the issues with tech, the cast carry the show with elegance. When I was moved to tears by the final act, I heard the girl beside me rooting for tissues in her purse. And as soon as the final notes rang out, the audience erupted into applause, standing and cheering within seconds of the lights coming back up, a true testament to the hard work and talent of all those working on the production.

Featured image credit: Danté K Photography

Pihla Pekkarinen
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