Reviewed by Talia Carlisle

Christmas has come early to Gryphon Theatre, with Kauri Theatre Company’s tinselled up production of Rent selling out before opening to those begging for a chance to see creator Jonathan Larson’s iconic Winter-set musical.

I am grateful director Lox Dixon has tackled such a huge artistic project to bring Rent back to Wellington, so I can see these wonderful performances brought to life by incredible actors, perfectly cast in his directing debut.

The cast’s energy and passion is matched by the hard-working production team, starting with production manager Emma Maguire, and hard-rocking band, with 45 musical numbers, conducted by musical director Anna McKean. What a feat!

We should be excited. Rent was originally produced by New York Theatre Workshop, and took Broadway by storm. There it gained cult status and won over hearts worldwide with its catchy, comedic and heart-wrenching ballads and rock songs, including La Vie Boheme, Take Me or Leave Me, and Without You. Our favourite, Seasons of Love, shines bright among the highlights in this production, but it’s hard to choose, and Over the Moon by Stacey O’Brien as Maureen takes all the cakes with cherries and double cream on top.

Themes of poverty, loneliness, political drama and a healthcare crisis surrounding HIV/AIDS are documented with care and projected with heartbreak as our lucky audience soaks up every harmony, romance, and sequin-studded dance number.

An almighty cast of 21 is required to pull off this incredible story, including alternates. I was lucky to see both Ed Blunden and alternate Sam Shields take on the master storyteller role of Mark Cohen with effortless charm, creatively connecting this group of friends and misfits tackling their dreams and day-to-day life in New York.

They battle, and witness the HIV/AIDS crisis first-hand, and face daily hardships alongside their talented but struggling friends. This includes the talented Dennis Eir Lim as the sparkling glue of the friend group, Angel. Dennis shone spectacularly in his first musical lead role in central Wellington, and I was lucky to see Angel alternate Owen Mooij rock the role also.

We want more, and choreographer Aroha Davidson delivers, the bow on top of this musical gift being the magnificent costumes worn by all of the cast, brought to life by Hayley Knight.

The jaw-dropping Angel costumes are by multi-talented cast member Richie Rewa, who plays the ever doting Tom Collins, whose devotion to Angel and the group counter the cold-hearted role of landlord and ex-friend Benny (Kwok Yi Lee) who’s riding the high life in New York, a scene-stealer, and a front door one too!

There are 10 dressers helping with these quick changes and the result is effortless and captivating as each scene brings new energy, and stand out moments by all of the ensemble. This includes the endlessly talented Millie Fuller, Emily K Brown, Gracie Voice, Kristina Lee, Roy Hakim, Olivia Marshall and Zac Fitzgibbon.

Choreographer Aroha Davidson also stepped in at least once to round out a full rotating cast including further alternates Nadia Newman, Lexi Sutherland, Jason Mackiewicz, and Tara Terry – our fiery Mimi alternate on Wednesday who steals the show.

Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone, and many missed out on this iconic production due to its limited season and seating at Gryphon Theatre.

My highlights from watching not one, but two nights include the heartbreakingly beautiful romance by musical superstars Chris McMillan and Rachel Te Tau as Roger and Mimi, whose duet Light My Candle had me entranced from the start.

The troubled romance of Maureen and Joanne, played by Stacey O’Brien and Caitlin McDougall, had us all captivated and entertained, with We’re Okay and Over The Moon being spectacular highlights, so much so I had to mention it twice!

Such a talented group under one roof – I don’t know how the roof didn’t explode! Must have been the wrangling of stage manager Kate Bain.

We all need a candle to light our way as we head into winter ourselves.

I feel better knowing these bright stars, and catchy songs hold a place in my heart and I only wish there was a cast recording to keep it there. Instead, watch out for these names, and support musical theatre, because these angels are all worthy of Broadway and they’ll be back.

Those Christmas bells are still ringing.