The Stratford Festival Measures RENT in Love
“Connection in an isolating age.”
It isn’t summer without a trip to The Stratford Festival, and this year I was so thrilled to be making the journey to see RENT.
Set in Manhattan in the 1990s and inspired by Puccini's opera La Bohème, this rock musical follows a group of young East Village artists, performers and philosophers as they struggle through the hardships of poverty, societal discord and the AIDS epidemic in the search for life, love and art.
With a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award Winning book and music by Jonathan Larson, RENT is as relevant now as it was when it first premiered in 1996. While Larson tragically passed away before seeing the success of RENT, his legacy has been kept alive through family, friends, the artists who have brought his work to life onstage, and audiences around the world who have been touched by the show’s message.
The tradition of lovingly passing down RENT from generation to generation is being continued under the careful eye of director Thom Allison. Allison was actually a cast member in the Canadian premiere of RENT, and demonstrates a clear understanding, love, and respect for the text. The cast and creative team of RENT at Stratford uplift the show’s messages of the power and ability of art to heal and connect us all.
The Festival Theatre has a beautiful thrust stage, and there’s so much power in presenting a show this way. It provides a more intimate experience for the audiences. Brandon Kleiman and his team designed a gorgeous set which supports Allison’s staging and Marc Kimelman’s choreography.
RENT features a starry Canadian cast, including Robert Markus as Mark, Kolton Stewart as Roger, Andrea Macasaet as Mimi, Nestor Loranzo Jr. as Angel, Lee Siegel as Tom Collins, Erica Peck as Maureen, and Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane as Joanne.
The show would not be the same without Robert Markus in the role of Mark, who is the show’s narrator/guide. A filmmaker, he witnesses the highs and lows in the lives of his friends. Markus grounds the production, interacting with the audience as the story unfolds. La Vie Boheme and Halloween, were two of my favourite moments in the show thanks to his magnetic charisma.
As Tom Collins, Lee Siegel delivers the show’s most heartbreaking number with a stunning, gut-wrenching, and soul-shattering rendition of I’ll Cover You (Reprise). Despite breaking his heart open onstage, his vocals are clear and soar through one of the most beautiful showtunes ever written. This moment in the second act is likely one of the best theatre moments I’ve witnessed.
RENT is a joyous celebration of life, love, and making the most of every moment we are given. The powerful story is accompanied by one of the most electrifying scores of our generation and this production is passionately presented by an incredible group of Canadian artists!
Be sure to take the opportunity to see this moving production at The Stratford Festival before October 29th, 2023.
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