Australian Production of Rent – Though Genuine, Struggles to Avoid Parody Status


In recent years, the renowned musical Rent has garnered immense popularity with its captivating storyline and memorable songs. Audiences around the world have been captivated by the struggles and triumphs of a group of friends living in New York City. However, a recent Australian production of Rent has sparked mixed reactions, with some praising its earnestness while others criticize it for feeling like a parody. In this review, we will delve into the various aspects of the Australian production of Rent and analyze its strengths and weaknesses.

The Plot: A Familiar Tale

The storyline of Rent remains consistent across various productions, including the Australian rendition. Set in 1989 Manhattan, the musical follows the lives of a group of friends struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their artistic dreams. Mark, a wannabe filmmaker, and Roger, a struggling musician, share a loft and face the challenges of their chosen paths. Their lives intertwine with Collins, a friend who is mugged and rescued by the drag queen Angel. As their relationships evolve, they must confront the harsh realities of living with AIDS and the imminent threat of eviction from their former roommate Benny.

The Cast: Familiar Faces Reunited

One of the unique aspects of the Australian production of Rent is the reunion of much of the original cast from the stage show. Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal reprise their roles as Mark and Roger, bringing their familiarity and chemistry to the big screen. Jesse L. Martin shines as Collins, while Wilson Jermaine Heredia delivers a stellar performance as Angel. Idina Menzel takes on the role of Maureen, and Tracie Thoms impresses as Joanne. Rosario Dawson joins the cast as Mimi, infusing the production with her dynamic presence.

The Direction: Respectful Transition from Stage to Screen

Directed by Chris Columbus, the Australian production of Rent successfully translates the essence of the stage show onto the silver screen. Columbus, known for his ability to handle large ensemble casts, stays true to the original material while adding his own touch. He effectively opens up the story to include outdoor scenes in the bustling streets of New York, creating a more immersive experience for the audience. Despite some minor missteps, Columbus demonstrates a deep understanding of the source material and ensures a respectful transition from stage to screen.

The Music: A Mixed Bag

Jonathan Larson’s music and lyrics are the backbone of Rent, and the Australian production showcases both the strengths and weaknesses of the musical’s soundtrack. While some songs soar with emotion and energy, others fall short, lacking the same impact. Larson’s ability to capture the spirit of the characters is evident in numbers like “Out Tonight” and “La Vie Boheme,” where the cast comes together to deliver powerful performances. However, there are forgettable moments and overly earnest lyrics that detract from the overall impact of the music.

The Performances: Standouts and Missed Opportunities

The Australian cast of Rent delivers commendable performances, with some actors standing out more than others. Idina Menzel’s portrayal of Maureen is a highlight, showcasing her vocal prowess and magnetic stage presence. Wilson Jermaine Heredia shines as Angel, bringing warmth and charm to the character. Jesse L. Martin and Tracie Thoms impress with their chemistry and engaging performances. However, some actors are burdened with material that doesn’t fully showcase their talents, leaving their characters feeling one-dimensional.

The Emotional Impact: Moments of Power and Melodrama

Rent holds the power to evoke deep emotions within its audience, but in the Australian production, the balance between genuine sentiment and melodrama is often tipped. Some moments resonate strongly, such as the duet between Rapp and Thoms in “The Tango Maureen,” highlighting the emotional complexity of their love triangle. However, there are instances where the portrayal of characters revealing their AIDS diagnosis feels forced and unintentionally comedic. These melodramatic moments hinder the overall impact of the production.

The Set Design and Cinematography: Capturing the Essence of New York

A successful adaptation of a stage musical to the silver screen relies heavily on set design and cinematography. In the Australian production of Rent, the team excels in capturing the essence of New York City. The sets effectively transport the audience to the gritty streets of Manhattan, while the cinematography captures the energy and diversity of the characters’ surroundings. However, there are moments where the visual choices, such as an overly cheesy desert scene, detract from the overall authenticity.

The Flaws: Unrealistic Character Motivations

While the Australian production of Rent stays faithful to the original material, there are notable flaws in the character motivations. Mark and Roger’s anger towards being financially responsible for their living situation feels exaggerated, and their resentment towards Benny’s success seems unjustified. These unrealistic character choices undermine the realism that Rent strives to portray. Additionally, the film’s reliance on fade-outs in several scenes disrupts the overall momentum and leaves the audience with a sense of confusion.

Conclusion: A Mixed Bag with Moments of Brilliance

The Australian production of Rent presents a mixed bag of qualities, with moments of brilliance and flaws that hinder its impact. While the reunion of the original cast brings familiarity and chemistry to the film, some performances fall short due to limited character development. The music, though powerful at times, suffers from forgettable moments and overly earnest lyrics. The direction successfully captures the essence of the stage show, but occasional missteps disrupt the overall flow. Despite its shortcomings, the Australian production of Rent offers glimpses of the powerful emotions and themes that have made Rent a beloved musical worldwide.

Additional Information

  • The Australian production of Rent received mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike.
  • The musical continues to attract a dedicated fanbase, known as “Rentheads,” who appreciate the show’s themes of love, friendship, and resilience.
  • Rent has had a significant cultural impact since its original Broadway debut in 1996, inspiring a generation of theatergoers and artists.