REVIEW: 9Works Theatrical’s “Rent” Raises the Bar in Manila with Powerful Performances and Meaningful Message

“Rent” is finally back on stage!

After 10 years, 9Works Theatrical brings back the iconic musical “Rent” to the Philippine stage with a production that not only honors the original version, but also adds its own unique touch, making it a must-see for theater enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

The Manila production, which has been lauded for its unforgettable music and moving story, is directed by Robbie Guevera. 

According to Robbie, he wants to take a fresh approach by making HIV/AIDS at the forefront of the narrative, aiming to raise awareness among the new generation.

This decision adds a layer of depth to the story, highlighting the struggles and resilience of the characters as they navigate life and love in the face of a devastating epidemic.

Theater enthusiasts do not need 525,600 reasons to fall in love with this musical as FreebieMNL lists down four reasons why “Rent” is worth a trip to the theater.

The story of “Rent” remains strikingly relevant.

While Jonathan Larson’s ‘Rent’ officially premiered off-Broadway 28 years ago and was set in New York City’s East Village during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s, its story remains strikingly relevant and resonates deeply with Filipino audiences. 

In the Philippines, where the HIV/AIDS epidemic remains a pressing issue, 9Works Theatrical’s production of “Rent” has added significance. The production not only highlights the difficulties faced by people infected with the virus, but it also emphasizes the importance of raising HIV/AIDS awareness and understanding in the Filipino community.

By re-staging “Rent” in Manila, 9Works Theatrical has provided a forum for meaningful discussions about HIV/AIDS, educating and inspiring audiences to take action.

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“Rent” is a fusion of theater pros and TV performers

The show serves as a perfect meeting point for theater and mainstream actors, blending their talents seamlessly.

Led by a talented all-Filipino cast, which includes Sparkle artists Anthony Rosaldo, Garrett Bolden, and Thea Astley, and regular theater performers Markki Stroem, Reb Atadero, Lance Reblando, Ian Pangilinan, and more.

Theater veteran Reb Atadero shines in his portrayal as Mark Cohen, Roger’s best friend and an aspiring filmmaker. His performance, as expected, is a masterclass in both comedy and emotional depth, displaying authenticity in every scene.

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Anthony Rosaldo, taking on the role of Roger, exudes that rockstar quality, complemented by his powerful vocals. However, his chemistry with Thea Astley, who plays Mimi Marquez, could benefit from further development, considering both are talents of GMA-7’s Sparkle.

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Thea Astley, despite being a theater newbie, delivers a sweet and engaging performance as Roger’s lover. While she initially displays signs of nervousness, her portrayal gradually evolves, and she begins to embody her character with confidence and authenticity.

READ ALSO: Sparkle Singer Thea Astley Tries Acting In Theater Via “Rent: The Musical”

One of the moving and standout performances of the show comes from Lance Reblando’s artistic portrayal of Angel. Adding depth and nuance to the character, her character’s fate in the show and how she delivered her performance make it memorable and impactful, resonating with the audience in every scene. Originally written as a drag queen, this restaging presents her as a transgender character, a subtle yet powerful reflection of our changing times. 

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Particularly noteworthy is Garrett Bolden’s portrayal of computer genius, educator, and anarchist Tom Collins. Garrett’s soulful voice draws the audience to him. His chemistry with Lance, who plays Angel, is undeniable, giving the audience a heartfelt portrayal of a beautiful relationship that makes you say “sana all.”

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My personal theater favorite, Markki Stroem, whom I first admired for his role in the musical ‘Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady,’ delivers a riveting performance as the antagonist, landlord Benny Coffin III in this production. His good looks and confident demeanor, as if he stepped out of a fashion print ad, make him both endearing and annoying, that sometimes can be hard to tell if you’re rooting for him or despising him. Aside from Benny, Markki also plays the alternate of Garett for the role of Tom.

Visually Stunning Set Design 

The set design for “Rent” is a sight to behold, with three stories of scaffolding adorned with LED lights and plastic curtains, maximizing the stage. This visually striking set effectively transports the audience to the gritty streets of New York City, setting the stage for a captivating and immersive theatrical experience and adding depth and dimension to the narrative.

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Commendable partnerships 

In keeping with their commitment to bringing HIV/AIDS to the forefront of the narrative, 9Works Theatrical has collaborated with institutional partner organizations such as The Red Whistle, Love Yourself Inc, and Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc (PAFPI), emphasizing their primary goal of educating the next generation more about the virus.

The 2024 Manila restaging of “Rent” sets a new standard for Philippine theater. With HIV/AIDS at its core, the production delivers powerful performances, impressive casting, and a meaningful narrative that remains faithful to the original by adding unique touches. It also underscores the impact of the art as it sparks meaningful conversations while making sure audiences are entertained.

Banner Art Paulo Correa

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