This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Just So Society, so it feels fitting that they should produce Rent for this semester’s musical. In the 20years since its off-broadway opening, Rent has gained a huge following – it is quite often cited as a favourite, and the enthusiasm this cast and crew had for the show shone through clearly on the night. There has been substantial hype around this production for week, with the onslaught of online publicity paying off with a full house on opening night (and indeed every night to follow).
I think the most important thing to note about this musical is the music itself. The cast’s vocals were phenomenal throughout the show and the band did a remarkable job of underscoring and coming in at the appropriate moment, in what is a very technically challenging score. There was never a discernibly weakest singer at any point, the standard of the ensemble was up there with that of the principal characters. The power of the group numbers raised goosebumps and Joe Revell (Musical Director) must be commended on this strong vocal work.
That being said, the standard of acting was slightly less consistent. The chemistry between Collins (Jonathan Hewitt) and Angel (Christopher Miller) was so strong that the chemistry between other couple was occasionally lacklustre. Anoushka Kohli and Andrew Mundy, however, should also be praised for their performances as Mimi and Mark respectively. Hannah Lieberman also deserves a shoutout – her appearances as Mark’s Mother received regular laughs.
We come to that third element of musical theatre: dance. Choreography for this production was good without being distracting, and on the whole performed to a much higher standard than I have seen in previous Just So productions. Occasionally, some of the cast (boys in particular) seemed less graceful in their movements than the choreographer (Mariella Fortune-Ely) might have intended, but as non-dancers it was still an impressive effort.
The lighting was harmless enough, and there were still a few teething problems with props and some microphones, but nothing that was unforgivable for an opening night. The set was appropriate but the tower scaffolding felt sadly underused. The positioning of the band also seemed cramped and was quite distracting during one of the more intimate numbers. The use of the rest of the space was good, and director Tommy Rowe did a good job capturing the community feeling throughout the piece. I thought the ‘Life Support’ and ‘La Vie Boheme’ scenes were particularly effective. The cast really moved as a unit, and the level of intimacy among them was very clear. These scenes gave off a certain cosiness that was supported by the costuming. The outfits, and props, such as corded phones and chunky video cameras, certainly captured the essence of the 90s and gave the production a certain nostalgia.
Overall, the production was excellent, it made clear that tragedy is present in our everyday lives, and showed us the complexities of human relationships and the necessity for love. Director Tommy Rowe and producer Fiona Yelland should be proud of their creation. It is a triumphant production for the 30th year of the Just So Society.