A difficult piece for any group to pull off, Pangdemonium's version of Broadway rock musical RENT has proved to live up to expectations.
Directed by Tracie Pang, RENT featured familiar names, such as Benjamin Chow, who plays Mark, an aspiring documentary filmmaker, and Tabitha Nauser, who plays Mimi, a stripper suffering from HIV and a serious drug addiction.
Staged at the Drama Centre Theatre, RENT, one of renowned American composer Jonathan Larson's greatest works, highlighted many issues faced by marginalised youth that are still relevant to the youth of today.
Set against the backdrop of late 1990s in New York City, RENT follows the story of a group of friends who, over the course of a year, grapple with various issues pertinent to that era – the AIDS epidemic, drug addiction, poverty, and queer life.
The musical traces the progression of three couples; Roger and Mimi, Collins and Angel, Maureen and Joanne. Each couple faces their own unique set of problems, but are ultimately bound together by a common thread – the notion that love will always win.
Be it struggling to face death squarely in the face, being in a relationship that is severely frowned upon by society, or simply dealing with each other's absurdities, each couple's story teaches us a thing or two about what it means to not only love, but to fight for love.
ONE OF THE COUPLES, MAUREEN (LEFT) AND JOANNE (RIGHT), STRUGGLES TO RESOLVE THEIR DIFFERENCES.
Amidst the turmoil these couples face, Mark, the narrator and central figure of the musical, faces a different set of issues on his own. He encapsulates the all-too-familiar notion of the young but jaded artist – one who struggles to avoid cashing in his dreams of flying solo, for a humdrum job at a mega company.
For the most part, RENT is a spectacle to watch. From the upbeat musical numbers, to the eye-catching dance choreography, the production will keep you on the edges of your seat.
But the musical also has its fair share of ballads which are sure to tug at even a cynic's heartstrings. The musical's ingenious storyline, coupled with its astounding soundtrack, will leave you wanting for more by the end of the three-hour production.
Each cast member has also put up a stellar performance, and successfully transformed Larson's work into an enjoyable and remarkable piece worth every penny. What really took centre stage was the impeccable chemistry between Roger and Mimi, played by Cameron Macdonald and Tabitha Nauser respectively.
ROGER (LEFT) AND MIMI (RIGHT) SHARE MANY MOMENTS ON STAGE.
Macdonald's rugged demeanour and husky voice perfectly encapsulates Roger, an ex-rocker caught in his own pessimistic worldview, while Nauser's sultry look and soothing voice epitomises Mimi's flirtatious yet lovable personality.
It was a joy to watch the two transform what may seem like the usual boy-meets-girl cliché, into a heart-wrenching story of two equally broken people, both looking for something worth loving and living for.
Also noteworthy is the intricate set design, which imitated the shabby interior of the characters' apartment. The set's general industrial look is highlighted with a massive three-storey scaffolding on the left of the stage, adding another dimension to the stage proxemics and dynamics within characters.
Look out for the fireman's pole that spans the first two storeys, which will be utilised by the actors in 'La Vie Bohème'.
(LEFT TO RIGHT) A SONG OF HOPE SHARED BY ANGEL, TOM, AND MARK.
PHOTO CREDITS: CRISPIAN CHAN
However, the musical fell short of giving viewers a realistic view of the world. While the nature of RENT features extravagance, it is important to create a balance between the hopefulness of every character's dreams, and the harsh reality that these dreams may not come to pass.
Perhaps, there is room for improvement in creating a realistic portrayal of these three-dimensional characters, such as Mimi and Angel, who seem to glamourise complex issues like sex work and addiction.
Ultimately, in the various seasons of life, RENT serves as a timeless reminder of the human spirit that triumphs over all else. The marginalised and impoverished youth of New York's East Village gives us a glimpse into what it means to live and love freely, to embrace each other’s differences, and to truly bond as one community.
RENT (rated R18 for mature content) is now showing at the Drama Centre Theatre until Oct 23. Tickets are available at SISTIC.