Rent is entertainingly good, but it doesn’t shine


Jonathan Larson’s Rent once made ripples across Broadway; much of the same appears to be happening in Australia, with much rave and standing ovations for the rock musical. The play, however, didn’t uphold the heavy expectations placed on it. Despite a strong cast and some of the best music theatre has to offer, Rent’s narrative is lacking in both impact and clarity, leading to an ultimately unsatisfying experience.

The cast of Rent made it an entertaining experience, combining passionate and charismatic performances with excellent singing. While it is clear that the whole cast gave it their all, I was a big fan of Nick Afoa’s performance as Collins and Carl De Villa’s performance as Angel in particular, as both actors contributed greatly to the musical being lively and fun. Maureen, played by Calista Nelmes, showcases her annoyingly good singing talents throughout the play, notably in the song “Over the Moon.” I found her to be a standout performer due to her hilarious delivery and stage presence—there is a lot that can be said about an actress who is able to get an audience to moo, after all. The cast’s performance of “Seasons of Love,” Rent’s most iconic song, had the audience clapping and singing along.

Rent perfectly showcases Jonathan Larson’s musical talent and his ability to create iconic songs. The musical has no shortage of great songs such as “La Vie Bohème,” a celebration of the lifestyle that the characters live, and the aforementioned “Seasons of Love.” The brilliance of these songs was reflected in the reactions of the audience, who were captivated by the powerful and raw emotions driving these songs. While much of the impact these songs had can be attributed to a cast with great musicality, it is easy to praise Jonathan Larson’s lyrics and composition.

The sets took away some of the immersion from the musical due to their amateurish appearance. While, to an extent, the sets did reinforce the grittiness of the lives of the characters, I felt some of my immersion into the setting dissipate due to the rough-looking way the sets were transitioned. Some props simply looked amateurish. A particular scene with Angel, for example, suffered greatly in terms of its emotional weight due to the rough way the props, in this case her wings, looked.

Despite Rent’s excellent cast and music, I found that the play suffers from messy storytelling which causes its narrative to lack cohesion. The musical tackles many social issues, including homelessness, the AIDS crisis, the treatment of the LGBT community, and drug addiction, through the setting of New York City’s East Village. The relationships of the core cast of characters, who are a group of friends threatened by said issues, were underdeveloped and told in choppy bits, failing to form a coherent narrative. The story was vague and ambiguous for seemingly no purpose, with songs that, while well-performed, felt out of place. The conclusion of the musical lacked impact due to how underdeveloped the story and characters were. The dramatic moments towards the climax of the movie are hampered by the lack of coherence the story suffers from.

While Rent is certainly a very entertaining musical with great music and a great cast, it has several flaws which stop it from becoming a truly great musical. It lacks in its props and sets, which ruins the immersion of several important scenes and in its storytelling, with the disorganised style in which Rent’s themes and ideas were communicated failing to leave a lasting impact.

Farrago's magazine cover - Edition One 2024


It’s 2012 and you have just opened Tumblr. A photo pops up of MGMT in skinny jeans, teashade sunglasses and mismatching blazers that are reminiscent of carpets and ‘60s curtains. Alexa Chung and Alex Turner have just broken up. His love letter has been leaked and Tumblr is raving about it—”my mouth hasn’t shut up about you since you kissed it.” Poetry at its peak: romance is alive.

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