“No day but today”
Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 7 October 2016
Pangdemonium’s staging of Rent coincides with the musical’s 20th anniversary – Rent originally opened on Broadway in 1996. Some may of course remember Karen Mok’s stint as Mimi in the 10th Anniversary touring production that came to Singapore in late 2005. Having watched that 2005 production and come away utterly confused (it was my first encounter with the musical, which would gradually turn out to be a life-long love affair), I find myself here, almost 10 years later, anticipating Pangdemonium’s production, directed by Tracie Pang and featuring a young, (mostly) local cast.
Musical theatre staged by local companies tends to be fraught with many problems, not least the difficulty of finding performers who can sing, dance and act equally well. However, Pangdemonium, rises to this challenge commendably. In a way, this production is an affirmation that the local pool of musical theatre talent has grown in the past 10 years. The cast, as an ensemble, is very strong – group numbers like “La Vie Bohème” and the infamously complicated “Christmas Bells” are well executed, both vocally and choreographically.
What we need to continue developing, though, is strong individual performers who can command the stage in leading roles. Mina Kaye’s performance as Maureen is breathtaking; her training at the Boston Conservatory in the past two years certainly shows. Apart from her, though, the performers in the other main roles seem to be trying with all their might to reproduce the Original Broadway Cast recording, albeit not quite successfully. In their individual roles, most of the cast are generally watchable, but lack that extra spark that would make their characters truly their own.
In line with Pangdemonium’s commitment to staging work that addresses social issues, Rent highlights issues like stigmatisation against HIV/AIDS and homosexuality. However, it does so through a rather cultural specific context (set in New York’s East Village) and slightly dated atmosphere (there is a strong ‘90s feel about the music, and the work is filled with popular culture references of the decade).
Given the above, what I truly appreciate about this staging is that Pang has decided to remain faithful to the context of Rent. Witnessing Jonathan Larson’s beautiful work in all its cultural specificity makes me to feel respected as an audience member, rather than patronised with token local references and awkward changes to the script. Transcending cultural boundaries, the work’s poignant message comes across equally, if not more, strongly – “No day but today.”
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
RENT by Pangdemonium
7 – 23 October 2016
Drama Centre Theatre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jocelyn Chng graduated from the Masters in International Performance Research programme, receiving a double degree from the Universities of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Tampere, Finland. She currently freelances and teaches at the LASALLE College of the Arts.