>RENT by Singapore Repertory Theatre

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 14 feb 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>rating: ****1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.

>>>>>vive la vie boheme

"I'm used to relying on the intellectual, but I tried to open up to what I don't know."

In a time when people are dying of ignorance, buried alive under bigotry and consumed by hate, RENT barges into our lives amidst a cacophony of laughter and boisterous noise preaching subversive morals - live and love. Telling us there is no future, there is no past - no day but today. Disregard our rational minds and follow our aching souls - beatnik philosophy trying to penetrate a city more inclined to building roads than being on the road. To being an us for once, instead of a them.

And the city answers, "The National Arts Council is unable to provide public funds for a play which contains certain themes acknowledging alternative lifestyles as an accepted way of life" Sad isn't it?

But that certainly didn't stop the cast of RENT from living out loud - money is not exactly the modus operandi here. Bursting at the seams with zest and exuberance, RENT elated, provoked, saddened and outraged the audiences as the cast sang to us their hopes, dreams, fears and infectious happiness. With a full Filipino cast except for four Singaporeans, their lyrical voices filled Victoria Theatre with moving stories of the ordinary majestic lives of those living with AIDS.

>>'As a musical, it did everything right and more.'

As a musical, it did everything right and more. Besides a dramatic I'm-dying-soon-so-love-me-but-wait-don't-love-me plot to satisfy their audience's need for catharsis, RENT also boasted of many catchy tunes that adamantly refused to exit your head after you heard them. From the tender courtship love song "Light My Candle" to revolt anthem "La Vie Boheme" to poignantly somber "Seasons of Love", the songs went right to the heart and tugged fiercely at its strings. Sexy and dynamic, there was never a dull moment in the entire musical - emotions oscillated wildly but never stayed neutral.

Unlike other plays such as 'Cats' or 'Les Miserables', RENT wasn't just any tale about events and people long past our time and concern - afterall how much can you identify with cats singing under the moon? For our postmodern generation living constantly in reminder of the need for safe sex and grappling with the gloom of AIDS, RENT struck a chord right from the start. With its struggling group of artist trying to make sense of our global village world dissolving into virtual reality by positing their own individual boundaries, it spoke to the dilemma within us of trying to retain our own humanity in a mass-manufactured world of created personalities. Besides, the whole setting of existentialistic misery and suffering for your dignity in New York (yes, it had to be in New York, obviously) was so hip, so full of Attitude (yes, capital A, thank you), it was all too easy to indulge.

Compared to the run of RENT I first watched in London, the Filipino cast more than stood their ground in terms of musical talents. J M Rodriguez, Rachel Alejandro and Anna Fegi were particularly impressive as Mark, Mimi and Maureen respectively. With an impish boy smile and moves that were anything but boyish, Rodriguez lit the stage with his mesmerizing voice and charming personality. Alejandro and Fegi were both talented vocalists who filled up the hall with their rich voices while Fegi notched up the Attitude quotient with her street funk. However the local cast faltered somewhat in the singing department except for Pam Oei who proved valiant competition for her fellow actors. I could go on and on about how every wonderfully executed specific of the play brought the night to a crescendo but RENT can really be summed up in one word - life. Plenty of it. There might not have been much to intellectualise throughout the play but there sure was plenty to celebrate every single minute.

As you leave the theatre hall, sunlight hits you squarely in the eye but you do not squirm or shield your eyes - instead you smile at its intensity, thankful you are breathing.

The cast's dedication of RENT to "people living with, living with, living with - not dying from disease!" is a wake up call for the living dead in the city to rage against their dying night.

(Check out the alternative Inkpot review by Adi here.)