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REVIEW: ‘Rent’ offers resonant themes with rough edges

REVIEW: ‘Rent’ offers resonant themes with rough edges

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9 Works Theatrical brings back Jonathan Larson’s Rent, thirteen years after its own initial staging of Larson’s most popular work. This show also comes at the heels of its restaging of Tick, Tick… Boom! And much like last year’s second go-around for director Robbie Guevara, it seems that his take on Rent is largely an exercise in how to do it not all that differently but at the very least better this time around.

Indeed, while this production of Rent may give avid theater fans a sense of deep familiarity not just with the material but its staging even for this local take on the Broadway hit, Guevara does pull out all the stops it seems by making this 2024 go-around bigger with theatrics, from snow that gives even audiences a soft drizzle in “Christmas Bells” to the impactful use of aerial silks with Angel in “Contact.” The production’s technical elements (Dong Calingacion is technical director with Joiee Mejias as video designer) along with Mio Infante’s busy set of exposed scaffolding, broken windows, and dirty walls that visualizes grit and dingy 90s New York are just as much stars in this production as the characters within it, capturing not just that 90s American culture but the show’s rock music feel.

L-R: Garrett Bolden, Lance Reblando, Anthony Rosaldo, Markki Stroem, Reb Atadero; Photo Credit: 9 Works Theatrical – Reine Paisley

During the press preview, some lead performances seemed less settled into their roles compared to others. Fay Castro, who plays Joanne, appeared constrained by her butch pantsuit and short wig, as well as her stolid-yet-exasperated characterization. Jasmine Fitzgerald, who portrays Maureen, plays up the character’s erratic tendencies, which is enjoyable at times but not consistently. Her “Over the Moon” performance has its hits and misses, and her big entrance feels muddled, resulting in a clunky transition into the famed performance art-within-an-art.

However, the cast by and large finds their footing better in the second act. Marrki Stroem’s Benny, initially played by Stroem with a flamboyant flair that recalls 90s ‘metrosexuals,’ shows peeks of depth in the character’s arc involving Mimi. Anthony Rosaldo, who plays Roger, comes into his own ironically during “What You Own,” opposite the formidable stage stalwart Reb Atadero as Mark. Atadero has already found Mark’s levels and nuances, giving his take on the character a burnt-out, jaded filmmaker vibe rather than the typical fresh-faced nerd archetype.

Lance Reblando showcases impressive triple-threat chops, with pitch-perfect moves and lovable cuteness in “Today 4 U.” Garrett Bolden, who plays Collins, has a lovely baritone voice that captures the emotionality in “I’ll Cover You (Reprise).” The love story between Angel and Collins is also the most poignant, thanks to Reblando’s likability.

Thea Astley, who plays Mimi, delivers a satisfactory performance but lacks the hardened edge that comes with the character’s circumstances, drug problems, and AIDS diagnosis. This issue extends to Rosaldo’s Roger and most of the characters supposed to be suffering from the disease.

The cast performs La Vie Boheme; Photo Credit: 9 Works Theatrical – Reine Paisley

The focus still is less on the AIDS crisis of the time and more on the bohemian fight against The Man and their protests against gentrification. Though Larson’s book has always felt rough in places and in need of polish, now though, 30 years on, it is no longer to its real detriment but rather adds to the show’s familiar appeal.

However, the biggest drawback in this production might be a lack of clarity. In most group numbers, the full ensemble dancing, singing, and adding life and dynamism to the stage, combined with lighting and staging that doesn’t effectively direct the audience’s eye to the focus of the singing, makes it difficult to follow.

Watching Rent in 2024 is still an interesting experience, as the show’s message to seize the day (“No day but today”) resonates with today’s audiences who are living in a harsh post-pandemic world and are only all too familiar with the “you only live once” mentality. We have seen the Bennys of the world win, lost many to disease, and even lost to the fears that robbed us of at least three years.

While this production offers new visual and musical elements to appreciate and doesn’t feel its age or pander to nostalgia, it doesn’t exactly feel entirely fresh. Nevertheless, audiences will certainly take away a valuable reminder from this production: to measure your life in love.

Tickets: Php 2000 – Php 4000
Show Dates: April 19, 2024 – June 1, 2024
Venue: Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati
Running Time: approx. 2 hours and 30 mins (w/ 15 min intermission)
Credits: Jonathan Larson (book, music, lyrics), Robbie Guevara (director), Daniel Bartolome (musical director), Mio Infante (scenographer), PJ Rebullida (choreographer), Shakira Villa-Symes (lighting designer), Joee Mejias (video designer), Bam Tiongson (sound designer), Dong Calingacion (technical director), Elliza Aurelio (hair and makeup)
Cast: Anthony Rosaldo, Molly Langley, Thea Astley, Ian Pangilinan, Reb Atadero, Justine Peña, Jasmine Fitzgerald, Garrett Bolden, Adrian Lindayag, Lance Reblando, Mica Fajardo, Fay Castro, Markki Stroem, Guji Lorenzana, Abi Sulit, Jordan Andrews, Misha Fabian, Chesko Rodriguez, Antonio Valdez, Kai Banson, Vyen Villanueva

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