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RENT as presented by Fermanagh Musical Theatre

RENT as presented by Fermanagh Musical Theatre

Date of Adjudicated Performance: 18th August, 2023.

Sullivan Section - Caroline Daly Jones

Despite Storm Betty creating havoc in the evening when I visited the stunning Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen, it certainly did not discourage the full house that attended on the Friday night for Fermanagh’s Musical Society production of RENT.

RENT is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson. It is based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La Boheme. Rent tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York's Lower East Side of New York under the shadow of HIV/AIDS

The Director - Ryan Moohan brought the production together very well. Directing a show like Rent in certain areas on the island of Ireland can be daunting and indeed challenging but Mr Moohan succeeded very well. This production had some really good moments - e.g. Angel’s Coffin appearing from the pit was very cleverly done and it created a lovely and yet highly charged emotional scene for Angel’s funeral. A really lovely touch utilising the movable pit area to perfection. This was teamwork at its best. It was beautiful and very emotional and it was obvious that every person on stage here owned their part and their love for Angel and that carried through to your audience. I did not want this scene to end such was the effect it had on me and the rest of the audience

The set was simple in design with a sofa, table, and a guitar indicating the apartment. The lit Christmas tree above the orchestra was a lovely touch and worked very well. There was an upper level to the set also, where some scenes were played. I would like to have seen maybe a few loft style New York City large windows as a backdrop to emphasise the location however this is a small observation. The fairy lights draped all over the stage including the orchestra worked extremely well. Very simply done, and most effective. I really liked this touch.

Lighting was in most part good and the full ensemble numbers were very well lit. From an audience point of view I will add that for the Chorus Ensembles when they sang in a group down stage left, it was difficult for some of the audience in the side wings of the auditorium to see all of what was going on stage when they were singing in the few ensemble numbers. However this is just a tiny glitch and did not affect the overall performances of anyone on stage.

Moya Sweeneys Musical Direction was superb. The band was small but made a gorgeous sound, It was surprising to see the band actually occupy part of the stage rather than being in the pit - it was very clever and effective in many scenes - the counter side of this decision is that a sizeable part of the stage then becomes occupied permanently and unusable for the actual production. However on other hand by having the band on stage it allowed Angels coffin to arrive up from the pit on levers for the funeral and with it the super musical direction of “Goodbye Love”. The band in this particular scene were very emphatic of the performers, everyone was on cue and in sync and it was a beautiful moment and so very well executed by every single person involved. A moment in time. Beautiful.

Ms Sweeney was also the Chorus Mistress, and the ensemble had a strong presence and sound in all the ensemble numbers. Great work for a relatively small cast. It definitely was a case of less is more. And it worked.

Choreography by Shauneen Hamilton and Aine Leonard was effective. Well done ladies. As this is not a huge Choreography show what we did see was done very well. “Tango Maureen” was excellent. Dance routines were energetic as well as well as together in unison.

All of the above was well managed by Meaghan Flanagan and her team. It was lovely to be brought backstage to meet everyone and in particular to see how this set was managed and what were the elements involved in staging this show.

This theatre does not have a lot of room backstage, and when I saw how everything was so professionally done I really do applaud the stage management team for their effortless and seamless fluid like production of this show from behind the scenes.

This show had a strong front line and cast, all playing their parts really well in bringing us the story behind Rent.

The lead role of Mark Cohen, was played by Odhran Sweeney, and from the outset I liked his portrayal of the part. It was a solid performance and unwavering in maintaining the links between all the characters. He was costumed very well befitting of the nerdy characteristic and poor student / post student look. He had a soft singing voice and his performance in ‘Tango Maureen’ was particularly good. Mr Sweeney had great chemistry with his roommate.

Roger – was played by Harry Parkinson. Living in America was sung exceptionally well.

Roger Davis, rarely if ever leaves the apartment, combatting recovery from drugs and battling the HIV Disease. Mr Parkinson's understated but effective portrayal reflected this very well throughout. A highlight of Mr Parkinson’s singing for me was’ Light my Candle’ and especially ‘ One Song Glory ', two powerfully sung pieces that set the tone for the rest of the evening. Huge potential here with this actor and singer who will only get more assured with experience. Very well done.

Mimi Marquez played by Niamh Carney was cast well as a blonde bombshell version of Mimi. Her addictions and her illness came across very well and very strongly. “Light My Candle” was sung beautifully. This young lady has a wonderful stage presence and I loved her love of life even when she was so visibly ill. Ms Carney had a strong assured voice. Her make-up on her apparent “death bed” scene was particularly well done even to those like me in the audience further back, but it was very apparent by the make-up that she was very unwell. This was brilliantly portrayed.

The very important and much loved part of Tom Collins was played by Nadia Stenson. This was a real surprise to me, because the part is a male leading role especially musically written for a baritone. Ms Stenson tackled this role bravely and her singing and acting were well assured. Ms Stenson has a beautiful singing voice and her acting alongside Angel was good. ‘Sante Fe’ and' I'll cover you ' were performed and sung extremely well. The funeral of Angel was sung so beautifully you could hear a pin drop. I must say I did find it very difficult as a fan of Rent to adjust to a woman playing the part of Tom Collins but well done Ms Stenson on your performance.

Collins' love interest of course is Angel Dumont Schunard. This part was played by Rhys Hopkins. Generally, throughout the show, Angel, presents feminine and goes by she, although she describes herself as a boy at one point in the show. The other characters use a mix of he and she throughout the musical. Rhys Hopkins played this part exceptionally well. He looked great in costume (turquoise leather jacket was fabulous), and he performed really well in dance routines both alone and with the ensemble. ‘Today 4 U’ , which is Angels proper introduction to the show, was met with huge cheers from the audience and this performance did not disappoint. I just love this character and always think that with the right actor it can be a showstopper. Mr Hopkins is certainly the actor that could achieve this level playing Angel. I loved this performance from Mr Hopkins. Well done.

Niall Kerr played the role of Benjamin Coffin III who is Mimi’s ex. He is the much maligned landlord who is looking for the rent. Mr Kerr played the part well, a soft singing voice and subtle acting with principal parts. There was a lovely caring side to the way Mr Kerr played the part and I felt that the audience took to him very quickly. He sang ‘You’ll See’ melodically and his performance will only get even better and more assured with experience.

The two final characters are in an on / off relationship throughout, namely Maureen and Joanne.

Joanne was played by Aideen McNamara. Aideen has a beautiful tone to her voice and her duets with Maureen were particularly good. Especially “Take Me or Leave Me” and the duet with Mark - “Tango Maureen” was excellent. Ms McNamara played this part very well; her chemistry with Maureen (Clodagh Sweeney) was very obviously there and you can tell it was a part she really enjoyed playing. Well done Ms McNamara. A polished performance indeed.

Maureen was played by Clodagh Sweeney. I have to say that from the moment we were introduced to Maureen late in Act 1, the show suddenly hit a new gear. Ms Sweeney was simply fantastic in this role. Her “Over the Moon” was a fabulous piece of theatre. She owned that stage and had the audience in the palm of her hand. A great Actor and singer I felt the whole show stepped up a number of levels once Ms Sweeney arrived on stage. Her costumes were great, sexy / sassy and you knew immediately that this was the “Diva” in motion. Ms Sweeney take a bow. Bravo. You were my highlight of the show.

Other roles that were played very well by the ensemble cast were the parents and the telephone message scenes. I thought they sang / verbalised this superbly, and created great timing and humour. Well done. I have to mention those members of the ensemble who played the parents as there were some beautiful voices and great timing to some of these roles – not easy to do , but very well done.

The Chorus/ensemble scenes were well done and their contribution in supporting the principal cast was so important. The chorus singing was very good and even though to my view, they couldn’t see the M.D , they were all in unison and sounded great in the theatre.

As I’ve mentioned with some individual parts , costuming and make up was good . I would have changed Mimi’s costume a bit more in the second act but apart from this very well done.

When I arrived at the theatre the foyer was buzzing with people eagerly anticipating this fabulous musical and I was greeted warmly by the two lovely ladies in the box office and brought to a table in the theatre bar.

Within minutes I was introduced to the two Aine’s - Leonard (Choreographer) and Simpson (Stage Manager) and both of them made me feel so welcome despite both of them having responsibility for two very important cogs of the performance wheel which was starting very shortly.

For any society to put on a show like Rent, is a brave move, and I am sure that all the cast, crew and production team are so glad they had full houses and huge positive audience reaction. I am sure the team with Ryan at the helm, are so glad that they took the plunge and made their dream a reality. A great production executed beautifully.

Caroline Daly Jones - Sullivan Adjudicator

Some photos kindly shared by the society to accompany the review:


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