Venue: Drama Barn
Deciding to finish a year of productions with Jonathan Larson’s musical, RENT, the Drama Society has certainly ended this term with a bang.
Though perhaps not the most brilliant musical in terms of music and lyrics, the cast and crew, under the direction of director Thomas Ryalls and musical director Ryan Durkan, put on a stunning performance. Completely transforming the entire Drama Barn and utilising all the existing space, the set – from the thoughtful lighting to the run down, exposed scaffolding – portrayed New York City’s East Village perfectly. Even the wonderful band seamlessly added to the set.
But by far the best part about the production was the cast. Although Mark, played by Ross Telfer, lacked subtlety and was slightly underwhelming in parts, his duet with Joanne (Non Johnson) was absolutely brilliant, having the best chemistry in the performance, despite not actually being a couple. In ‘Tango: Maureen’, a battle of ex and current lover, Telfer and Johnson play off each other perfectly.
Non Johnson also proved especially wonderful as Maureen’s uptight, lesbian lover. She served as the perfect foil to liberal artist Maureen, played by larger-than-life Em Barrett, and the duet by the two vocal powerhouses was by far the best of the night: expressive, true to character and hilarious.
There were equally strong individual performances by Stewart Crank and Caolan Keaveney, who acted as wannabe musician Roger and MIT-expelled genius Collins. Crank, despite not having as much nuance in more tender and delicate moments was an amazing Roger, strong-willed with a stronger stage presence beneath the awfully dyed hair that looked far too much like Justin Timberlake’s shade of peroxide blonde circa the 1990s.
Keaveney was incredibly varied in his performance, adding brilliant shades to the character of Collins, from passionate mad tech genius to the broken and grieving lover. He even managed to upstage his partner, the fabulous cross-dressing Angel (Jamie Bowman). The latter, though pulling off the role with confidence and the attitude that would put many professional cross-dressers to shame, had problems with enunciation at parts. But then again, who needs to enunciate when you look that good in a garish red and white Christmas mini dress that would make Santa blush?
The ensemble, though playing different auxiliary roles, certainly impressed and even eclipsed some of the main cast. Marcus Crabb, in particular, was a crowd favourite; though only voicing Mark’s mother among many other roles, was a well-loved character.
But the best testament to the cast’s strength is in the chorus pieces that truly demonstrated the sheer talent of the actors. Beginning the act immediately after intermission with the most popular song from RENT, ‘Seasons of Love’, Em Barrett and Stewart Crank gave compelling solos that truly showed off their singing. Non Johnson is also deserving of praise and looked very pleased with herself for hitting that impressively high note.
The Drama Society’s rendition of the political American cult classic exceeded all expectations. It should be impossible to enjoy a musical where the songs are not terribly catchy and the story isn’t great, but their performance has done the impossible and added to the existing material to create probably the best musical performance I’ve seen on campus. From the attention to detail and execution, the amount of effort put into the student production looked like it has been rehearsed for five hundred, twenty-five thousand and six hundred minutes.