Johannesburg - To start off with, I’m not a big fan of the sing-every-single-word Broadway musical, mostly because of musicals like Rent. For three hours, even basic interactions between cast members like a simple “Hello” are elevated into orchestral pantomime. Even worse is when cast members don’t enunciate properly when delivering their melodic song-speaking, causing the local staging of Rent to take a turn for the unintelligible on the Joburg Theatre’s Fringe Theatre stage.
Rave reviews followed its run in Cape Town and so I was holding out for the best. Despite all the attempts by the enthusiastic group of young performers, the American accent which they used to perform the musical worked more as a hindrance than a help. For most of the production, my guest and I had no idea what we were watching as we tried to decipher what was being said.
Rent follows the lives of a bunch of New Yorkers who can’t afford rent, basically. They fall in love with one another, break hearts, make art, and sing about beauty and living life to its fullest. Many of the characters also experience the Aids crisis of the 80s – when the production plays out – and it deals with all the trials of that difficult time. So, it has an important message if, of course, you could understand any of it.
But if you tipped your head sideways a bit you could enjoy it as a nonverbal performance, kind of like a dance show. It’s always cool to see young up-and-comers with talent, such as 23-year-old Anzio September, and a bunch of others in Rent that you can just tell are going to be big one day soon. But I just wish my interaction with them didn’t have to be through the lens of an American production wholly unadapted to South African audiences and performers.
Catch the final performance Sunday, 7 May, at the Joburg Theatre at 2pm. Tickets cost R250.
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