Theatre | Room for more Rent | Ken Longworth

TIMELESS: Hunter Drama actors in rehearsal for Rent, which will be staged at Civic Playhouse from October 20. Picture: Jo Roberts.
TIMELESS: Hunter Drama actors in rehearsal for Rent, which will be staged at Civic Playhouse from October 20. Picture: Jo Roberts.

DIRECTOR and actor Daniel Stoddart made what he smilingly calls “a throwaway comment” while conversing with fellow performer Daniel Wilson when they were seeing a show at Newcastle’s Civic Theatre last year.

“What show would you like to do again,” he asked. Wilson, without hesitating, said “Rent”.

Given the popularity Rent has had with Newcastle theatregoers, it didn’t take long for Stoddart to decide to stage the musical this year as part of his Hunter Drama company’s program, with a season at the Civic Playhouse from October 20.

This will be the second or third time in Rent for four of the principals – Amy Vee, Daniel Wilson, Marissa Saroca and Marty Worrall – and ensemble member Allison Van Gaal. The musical has had five productions in Newcastle, with the first, in 2006, so popular that it was restaged in 2007. There was a sold-out concert-style staging in 2011, and another Newcastle company, Pantseat Performing Arts, presented it in April this year.

Rent has been popular with young people who aren’t regular theatregoers. Writer and composer Jonathan Larson gave a catchy rock style to all the songs. And the story, which covers a year in the early 1990s in a down-market part of New York, has university students and would-be musicians and actors meeting and romancing, and finding themselves facing eviction.

The musical likewise has appeal for older people. Larson based the plotline and characters on those of the Puccini opera La Boheme, which is set in Paris in the mid-19th century. The adaptation shows the timelessness of the people and their situations. The opera’s debilitating tuberculosis, which was affecting people at the time of its writing, is replaced by HIV-AIDS, which was prevalent at the time of the musical’s writing in the late 1980s. (Jonathan Larson sadly died from an undiagnosed aortic aneurism just before the show’s Broadway opening in 1996.)

Daniel Wilson plays Mark, a filmmaker and the narrator of the story; Marissa Saroca is his former girlfriend, Maureen, a performance artist; Bec Fitzsimmons is Maureen’s lover, Joanne, a public interest lawyer; Marty Worrall is Mark’s roommate Roger, a musician; Amy Vee is Mimi, an exotic dancer, with whom Roger falls in love; David Giese is Tom Collins, a computer genius; Luke Baker is Collins’ lover, Angel, a street musician and drag queen; and Nicholas Stabler is Benny, a former member of the group who, after marrying into a wealthy family, has become their landlord.

Rent has performances from October 20 to November 4, on Friday and Saturday at 8pm, plus 2pm shows on October 21 and November 4 and an 8pm show on October 26.