Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of Rent mounted by Suzart Productions at Meridian Theatres at Centrepointe. It was my first time at this venue and it’s a good thing I left early because even though I arrived twenty minutes before showtime, the sizeable parking lot was already completely full. Luckily, there was free on street parking on Centrepointe and I made it to my seat just in time. I wasn’t surprised that the house was packed, as the show had sold out days before.
The Les Lye Studio Theatre, the smaller of the theatres at Meridian, is a great space: there’s not a bad seat in the house, with raked seating and a balcony. The set was striking, featuring colourful graffiti and raw scaffolding leading to an upper platform with the band tucked underneath. At the top of the show, the actors were pre-set, living in character on stage as the audience took their seats and waited for the show to begin. There was a buzz of excitement in the air, from both the performers and the audience.
For those who aren’t familiar with Jonathan Larson’s rock musical, Rent tells the story of a ragtag group of starving artists struggling to survive in New York City’s East Village during the late 80s and 90s. They battle poverty, discrimination, and drug addiction at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the “gayborhood”. Their resilience and determination to choose love in the face of adversity has been inspiring audiences since 1996, and last night’s audience was no exception.
The ensemble worked together beautifully to create the deep sense of community the story demands but the standout performer of the evening was, without a doubt, Lena Kirkham in the role of Maureen Johnson. This young performer is so spirited that I actually spotted her during an early choral number and made a note to myself to find out who she was. As entrancing as her character, Kirkham made us bust a gut with her performance art and later brought us to tears with her depth of emotion. Not to mention, she is a powerhouse of a vocalist. Keep your eye on this one; she’s going places! I also need to give a shout out to fan favourite, Axandre Lemours, who’s buttery voice and strong acting chops had the audience cheering every time he opened his mouth.
As for the music, the band was phenomenal and the choral numbers, such as La Vie Bohème and Seasons of Love, were fully realized and among my favourites. Some of the vocalists, though very talented, were a little tentative in their renditions and to them, I want to say: You’ve got this. Sing your heart out!
Rent is running only until this Sunday, December 10th, but all show are sold out!! Well done Suzart! Stay tuned for the next Suzart Productions show, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, which will run from May 22-26, 2024.
Review Written by: JB