The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

19/11/2022 - 21/01/2023

Production Details

Book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Musical arrangements: Steve Skinner
Original concept / additional lyrics: Billy Aronson

Director: Lara Macgregor
Musical Director: Richard Marrett
usical supervision and additional arrangements: Tim Weil
Dramaturg: Lynn Thomson


RENT, the musical phenomenon credited with helping to reinvent the American musical genre in the 1990s, is taking the stage as The Court Theatre’s summer musical this November.

Described as “the best show in years, if not decades” (Variety) when it opened in 1996, RENT has since garnered legions of avid fans worldwide known as RENT-heads. This ground-breaking production follows a group of artists struggling and striving to follow their dreams in New York City against a backdrop of poverty, looming gentrification and the AIDS crisis of the 1990s.

A lot has changed in the world since the play was written – thankfully AIDS is no longer the fearful spectre it was then – but what RENT does best is to capture the things that endure, especially the urgency and energy of living life to the fullest, every day, despite (or because of) that life being torn apart at the seams.

Celebrating love and friendship that is brave in the face of danger, loving when confronted by hate and hopeful against all odds, RENT is a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony award winner. RENT was inspired by Puccini’s opera La Bohème but transplanted to a modern setting with characters whose experiences reflected those of friends of its young writer, Jonathan Larson.

RENT was a late addition to The Court Theatre’s Ryman Healthcare 2022 season. As Covid affected the theatre’s programming for The Court’s third year in a row, The Court decided in May to add RENT – itself previously postponed from 2020 due to Covid – as its summer musical. Director Lara Macgregor was thrilled with the decision. “Surely there’s no better time in our post-Covid history to celebrate actors, creativity and lifelong friendships,” she says. 

There was significant work already done in preparation for this much-anticipated show when it was cancelled in 2020 and returning to deliver on their original vision alongside Macgregor are creatives; Richard Marrett (Musical Director), Mark McEntyre (Set Designer), Tina Hutchison-Thomas (Costume Designer) and Shane Anthony (Movement Director).

Having lived and worked as an actor in New York in the 1990s, Macgregor has experienced first-hand the vitality and vibrancy that made it such a hub of creativity, and New York’s East Village itself is almost a living character in this production. This was a place where punk, performance art and drag performance grew and flourished, making it a vital social environment as much as a physical one.

That environment is brought to life in McEntyre’s set, inspired in large part by the iconic nightclub CBGBs. Theatre-goers will experience first-hand the multi-layered vibrancy, rawness and emotion of this unique time and place. A world that moves through multiple spaces, as well as a range of seasons, will be created on and around The Court’s stage.

RENT features an ensemble cast of both New Zealand and Australian actors, some of whom are making their Court Theatre debut. They will be performing many high-energy musical numbers, including revered hits “Seasons of Love”, “Take Me or Leave Me” and “La Vie Bohème”, which make RENT one of the most uplifting and beloved musicals ever.

Marrett is charged with helping the cast bring that energy to life in song and is delighted that another chance “to perform RENT, which has become a modern classic, on The Court stage with a cast of extraordinary vocalists and a band of outstanding rock musicians” was made possible.

The magic of RENT is made more poignant in that the life of its young writer, Jonathan Larson, was cut unexpectedly short. “What a privilege to carry the torch for Jonathan Larson who, at 36, after seven hard years of developing RENT, passed away the night before it saw an audience,” Macgregor says. “He never got to bask in its huge success, it’s 11-year run on Broadway, his Pulitzer Prize or his Tony Award. We have a remarkable opportunity to continue his legacy and bring the unprecedented energy that is RENT to Christchurch.”

RENT also introduced the concept of ‘RUSH’ tickets, which are now a well-known feature of Broadway and The West End. To honour the spirit of RENT, The Court Theatre will offer a very limited number of Rush tickets for $20 – priced as they were in 1996 – for Box Office only sale in advance of each performance.

“RENT endures in the grand tradition of rock musicals: its heart is bigger than its problems; its music moves under your skin and moves you.”The Guardian, 2021

Sponsor: Golden Healthcare

The Court Theatre, Addington, Christchurch
19 November 2022 – 21 January 2023
Monday and Thursday: 6:30pm
Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat: 7:30pm
Forum (incl. Cast and Crew Q&A): 6:30pm Monday 21 November
2:00pm Saturday 17 December (also an Audio Described performance)
4:00pm 31 December; and
2:00pm 21 January 2023
Tickets on sale at  

Mark Cohen:  Ben Freeth
Roger Davis: James Bell
Mimi Marquez: Monique Clementson
Maureen Johnson: Jane Leonard
Tom Collins: Cameron Clayton
Angel Schunard: Bailey Dunnage
Joanne Jefferson: Anna Francesca Armenia
Benjamin Coffin III (Benny): Elijah Williams
Ensemble /Featured Vocalist: Brady Peeti
Ensemble / Mark Understudy: James Foster
Ensemble / Roger Understudy: Cameron Douglas
Ensemble / Tom Collins Understudy: Lance Ainofo 
Ensemble / Angel Understudy: Jared Pallesen
Ensemble / Mimi Understudy: Nomi Cohen
Ensemble / Joanne Understudy: Kathleen Burns
Ensemble / Maureen Understudy: Darlene Mohekey
Ensemble / Benjamin Coffin III (Benny) Understudy: Nic Kyle

Keys 1: Richard Marrett
Guitar: Michael Ferrar
Bass: Bradley Grainger  
Drums: Mitchell Thomas
Guitar 2, Keys 2: Tyler Robbins

Director: Lara Macgregor
Musical Director: Richard Marrett
Movement Director: Shane Anthony
Set Designer: Mark McEntyre
Costume Designer: Tina Hutchison-Thomas
Assistant Musical Director / Répétiteur: Caelan Thomas
Intimacy Direction: Jennifer Ward-Lealand
Lighting Designer: Grant Robertson
Sound Designer: Glen Ruske
AV Designer: Andrew Todd
Props Designer / Co-ordinator: Julian Southgate

Musical , Rock Opera , Theatre ,

Vital, muscular musical theatre

Review by Erin Harrington 21st Nov 2022

The Court Theatre has had a patchy year. Many shows were cancelled, mucked about or rescheduled, and the year’s standout production – TheMāoriSidesteps,wonderful – was chronically underattended. But their summer production of Jonathan Larson’s 1996 cult musical Rent feels like a bold invitation to audiences. Director Lara Macgregor, movement director Shane Anthony, and musical director Richard Marrett offer a muscular, vital production that showcases the best of the theatre’s talents.

Rent very loosely adapts Puccini’s 1896 opera La bohème, transplanting its story of bohemian life and tragic love to the East Village of New York City in 1989.  A raggedy group of found family and have-nots – impoverished artists, stragglers, addicts, outcasts – scrape together a living, squatting in derelict buildings. [More]


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Hard to imagine this production and cast being bettered

Review by Tony Ryan 20th Nov 2022

The cast of the opening night performance of Court Theatre’s latest summer production are greeted at its conclusion by a well-deserved and enthusiastic standing ovation.

The sheer energy, athleticism, stamina and general vitality of Court Theatre’s cast can hardly be faulted. Ben Freeth as Mark and James Bell as Roger dominate the opening sequence with vocal flair and considerable physical effect. Then, as the remainder of this outstanding cast quickly enters the picture, director Lara MacGregor’s eye for detail, and her intuition for dramatic impetus, visual variety and almost cinematic panorama, sets a tone and impact that never loses its momentum until the final tableau ‘freeze’ at the end.

The whole show is supported by a superb creative team, from Mark McEntyre’s versatile and atmospheric set and Tina Hutchison-Thomas’s appropriately diverse costumes, to Grant Robertson’s and Glen Ruske’s ever-dependable lighting and sound respectively. Music Director Richard Marrett’s well established expertise in music theatre once more results in both vocal and instrumental music-making of the highest imaginable standard.

There are so many individual moments – songs, ‘tune-ups’, ‘voice mails’, etc. – of passing colour and contrast, that a few highlights will have to suffice.

Mark and Joanne’s ‘Tango Maureen’ (Ben Freeth and Anna Francesca Armenia) in Act 1 is a wonderfully evocative set piece, particularly, as staged here, with three couples on the upper level of the set presenting traditional tango poses as the forestage actors project the song in all its latent erotic suggestiveness, both physically and in its implications of their personal relationship. With its clever lyrics and infectious rhythms, it’s one of the most compelling and entertaining episodes in the show. But did anyone else notice a remarkable musical similarity to the ‘Cell Block Tango’ from Chicago? And it’s not just the familiar and inevitable dance rhythm of the tango; the opening phrase of ‘Tango Maureen’ instantly reminds me of its Chicago counterpart’s refrain – “He had it coming”.

But then comes Mimi’s ‘Out Tonight’ which, as played by Monique Clementson, is undoubtedly the most consummate tour-de-force of physical and vocal display in the production. Clementson’s no-holds-barred performance is astonishing to say the least; from her pole dance antics between the upper and lower levels of the set, to her brazenly seductive and provocative poses on the downstage floor, she never misses a trick. And I’d have to add that, comparing her vocal performance to those on both the original Broadway cast and movie soundtrack recordings, Clementson wins hands down. The physical capers of her performance don’t compromise her vocal focus a jot – simply brilliant!

Maureen’s (Jane Leonard) ‘Over the Moon’ is another set piece, staged almost as a cameo and, despite another triumphantly accomplished performance, seems rather loosely connected to the show’s always rather tenuous dramatic flow.

The extended Act 1 Finale ‘La Vie Bohème’ is appropriately adrenaline-pumping without any particular musical originality, but it serves to connect Rent’s debt to Puccini’s La Bohème and, in turn, to Henri Murger’s novella Scènes de la Vie de Bohème on which Puccini’s opera is based. A dialogue reference to Musetta’s aria from the opera, after a musical quote from that aria, also features in the Finale, along with a few less obvious musical La Bohème references elsewhere in the show.

Act 2 begins with what is possibly the show’s best-known song, ‘Seasons of Love’, which is then reprised at key points later in the act. It’s certainly the show’s most memorable number, with music and lyrics inspiringly and effectively combined. Despite the song’s staging as a concert performance by the whole cast, it’s a key point dramatically, being the one point where the characters’ emotional need for one another is at its most compelling and heartfelt. Court Theatre’s production presents it beautifully, making use of a very poignant and effective solo contribution from the ensemble’s Brady Peeti, only spoiled by the distracting mid-song whoops of approval from a couple of partisan audience members sitting behind me.

A welcome moment of musical tranquillity comes with Mimi and Roger’s ‘Without You’ as they try to persuade themselves that they don’t need each other; a song that owes something to the song of the same title from My Fair Lady – texturally at least, if not with the same determined fervour of Lerner and Lowe’s incarnation.

The most convincing and moving relationship in this production of Rent is undoubtedly that between Tom Collins (Cameron Clayton) and Angel (Bailey Dunnage) from the point at which they meet, to Angel’s death from AIDS. But even here, the show’s creator and composer, Jonathan Larson, doesn’t develop sufficient dramatic narrative or musical pathos to convey the full force of the tragedy. And, notwithstanding the excellence of the performances from the whole cast, that is where I have a problem with the effectiveness of the work itself.

Apart from Tom and Angel, all the characters tend to be generalised, lacking individualised personalities. Director Lara MacGregor has brought considerable imagination and commitment to realising Larson’s creation but, unlike every one of the numerous productions of Puccini’s La Bohème that I’ve attended over the years, here we are left admiring the performances and analysing the message rather than feeling for the characters, being moved by the tragedy and weeping into our handkerchiefs. While we find it easy enough to identify with their relationships and predicaments, we don’t feel their joys, sorrows, loves and tragedies.

And whereas Puccini establishes a mood of youthful, joyful and uplifting high spirits with just the opening four chords of La Bohème, and maintains it through individual characters’ loves, jealousies, disappointments and sorrows until the ultimate and heart-rending tragedy, Rent tends to dwell on the conflicts and jealousies without the contrasting comforts and joys. The most recent production of La Bohème that I saw (at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival) updated the setting to a housing development in a large twenty-first century city, but the individuality of the characters and the tenderness of their relationships made it relevant and compelling in a way that Larson’s piece simply doesn’t match.

Having said that, Rent is not the only piece of modern musical theatre to change the focus of the dramatic context from individually characterised human beings following a convincing and plot-driven drama, to a high-impact presentation of episodic, loosely connected situations, played out by stereotypical characters, and where the set-piece musical numbers tend to interrupt the flow of the drama rather than drive it.

So, if you’re a fan of musicals like, say, Les Miserables or Wicked, you’ll absolutely love Rent; it’s undeniably one of the best of its genre, and it’s hard to imagine Court Theatre’s production and cast being bettered.


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