Award-winning Rock Musical, RENT, returns to the South African stage in a “vibrant” 20th anniversary production to be staged at the Artscape Arena from February 16 to 25. The original rock musical, composed by Jonathan Larson in 1996, was a Pulitzer Prize and Tony-Award winning masterpiece that changed the landscape of musical theatre. Previously featuring well-known actors such as Neil Patrick Harris, Rosario Dawson and Taye Diggs in various Broadway adaptations, including the 2005 feature film, the show has enjoyed on-going success, with diehard fans being dubbed ‘RENT-heads.’ Inspired by Puccini’s classic opera ‘La bohème’, RENT tackles issues of homelessness, homosexuality, drug addiction and HIV and Aids.
Director, Byron Bure, highlights the significance of these issues, particularly in a South African context, as they are still very relevant today. “Every day we see the divisive effects of nativism and intolerance, which ends up in violent conflict between different communities. The story of RENT may be specific to the artists in New York`s Bohemian East Village in the early 1990s, but the theme of a community in crises and how they struggle to deal with it still resonates today.”
Bure stresses the importance of addressing these issues through art and performance wherever possible. “As South-Africans we often see the impulse to turn against one another when threatened by these external forces. ‘RENT’ challenges us to turn towards one another to weather a storm and to choose love and respect. In our fractured society, this is a message that desperately needs to be heard.”
While setting the bohemian scene, much like in the original, Bure’s production will focus on the group dynamics of the characters.
“We spent a great deal of time analysing the characters and their needs within the piece, which informed how we were going to construct a production that best serves Jonathan Larson’s vision. We set about finding actors that could embody the characters both physically and vocally.” The cast consists of young professional artists making their break into the industry, much like those of their characters.
RENT producer, Stephan Fourie of The Stephan Fourie Theatre Company, believes in providing the platform for young South African talent to grow. “I’m so excited about this cast; they have an amazing energy and hunger to bring everything they have to these characters. The roles are extremely demanding both physically and vocally. The performers sing, dance and act, and we have been fortunate to find such a skilled group of young talent to bring this together.”
The cast members include award-winning Theatre and Performance graduates from the University of Cape Town, the University of Pretoria, Stellenbosch University, AFDA and the Waterfront Theatre School, technically trained across musical theatre, acting, singing, dance and choreography. Classical and contemporary singer and recipient of an invitation to audition for Juilliard Performing Arts School in 2012, Namisa Mdlalose (22) who plays the role of the brooding ‘Joanne’ says, “I could not have asked for a better experience. Being part of the RENT family, which is what we have become, has been challenging, but uplifting. I think RENT will never cease to be relevant. It tells a story of a community of broken people begging to be loved, to be forgiven, to be seen, to be healed. Ultimately, we find, love wins.”
Making his musical theatre debut, Anzio September, who plays Angel echoes Mdlalose’s sentiments on the show’s significance. “Besides themes about love and dignity, the musical deals with even darker issues which the youth today face – AIDS, drug addiction, and suicide.”
Musical director, Jaco Griessel directs the vocal performance of the cast as well as the five-piece band consisting of a pianist, a guitarist, a guitarist doubling up on keyboard, a bassist and a drummer. Rooted in rebellion and protest, the show is a blend of soulful gospel, grungy rock and pop.
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Visit www.artscape.co.za for more information.