Two ratings for Rent

The cast of Rent, a show about a community of artists struggling with love, career and the HIV virus in New York.
The cast of Rent, a show about a community of artists struggling with love, career and the HIV virus in New York.PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

Selected shows cut out kiss between two men so teens can watch Broadway musical

Pangdemonium will stage two versions of Broadway musical Rent from Oct 7 to 23 at the Drama Centre.

The R18 (mature content) version has a same-sex kiss, while the four shows rated Advisory 16 are shorter by a few seconds and lack the lipsmack between two men.

Given her druthers, director Tracie Pang, 48, would leave the kiss in for all.

She says: "I've been asked, 'Isn't this a risque show to do because there are gay relationships and it's talking about Aids?' This story is not new, why is it still considered risque?"

  • Pangdemonium to present first original play in new season

  • Known for restaging overseas theatrical hits, Pangdemonium will present its first original play in its new season next year.

    Tango, written by 20something playwright Joel Tan, is about a same-sex couple and their adopted son, who find it difficult to be acknowledged as a family in Singapore.

    The play runs from May 19 to June 4 at the Drama Centre Theatre.

    Director and Pangdemonium co-founder Tracie Pang says the company may present more original works in the future now that it has established itself with an audience that is receptive to its offerings.

    "If we had started out with original productions, people might have gone, 'huh?'," she says.

    Pangdemonium was set up in 2009 by the director and her husband, actor Adrian Pang. Its first production was in 2010: The Full Monty, about a male striptease act set up by unemployed men.

    Other edgy shows followed the risque debut and many, such as Next To Normal (2013)and Fat Pig (2014), received Life Theatre Award nominations for cast and director.

    Family drama unites the three shows revealed for the 2017 season. First up from Feb 24 to March 12 next year at the Victoria Theatre is Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman. It is a psychological thriller about a writer who has a special-needs brother and who is being questioned by the police over a series of child murders.

    Tracie directed the play in 2007 for the Singapore Repertory Theatre and received a Life Theatre Award nomination for her work.

    The Pangdemonium staging stars Adrian Pang, Daniel Jenkins, Shane Mardjuki and Andy Tear.

    From Sept 29 to Oct 15 next year, the company will stage the Singapore premiere of Fun Home by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, the multiple Tony Award-winning adaptation of Alison Bechdel's memoir.

    Bechdel's critically acclaimed graphic novel is a coming-of-age tale about her relationship with her father and her identity as a lesbian. The cast includes Nikki Muller, Monique Wilson and Adrian Pang.

    Both Tango and Fun Home are likely to be rated R18 while The Pillowman was given an Advisory 16 rating in its first staging.

    From Sept 28, Pangdemonium offers season tickets from $175 to $250 each. One ticket grants access to all three productions.

    Akshita Nanda

Pangdemonium's dual staging of the 20-year-old musical Rent comes on the heels of another kissing controversy.

In June this year, Les Miserables at the Esplanade cut a comic kiss between two characters to retain its G rating. This was after the Media Development Authority reviewed the production, following complaints from some members of the public.

Other shows have offered differently rated versions of the same performance without visible external prodding.

The Dim Sum Dollies' musical revue Crazy Christmas: Ting Tong Belles in 2013 was rated R18 for its 8pm shows, but the Dollies put on family-friendly matinees as well.

Similarly, director Pang says having two versions allows Pangdemonium to stage the show without censoring itself and also allows teenagers to watch the much-loved show about a community of artists struggling with love, career and the HIV virus in New York.

Rent's first staging in Singapore in 2001 was mired in controversy over characters who are gay or bisexual or transvestites.

A Manila production brought in by the Singapore Repertory Theatre was rated R(A) and key sponsors, including the National Arts Council, withdrew backing.

The 20-year-old Broadway production is loosely based on the 19th-century Puccini opera La Boheme. La Boheme was about starving artists in Paris struggling to make a name for themselves even as tuberculosis shortened some of their lives. Rent involves a similar community of artists, musicians and film-makers in New York with the fatal disease updated to Aids.

The musical's list of laurels includes a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award for best musical and a medley of finger-snapping hits such as La Vie Boheme and Seasons Of Love (later recorded by musician Stevie Wonder).

Rent was made into a movie in 2005 and the 2008 live recording of the final Broadway show is a collector's item.

A 20th-anniversary tour begins this month in the United States.

The director of the Pangdemonium production says: "Rent is about this community of people. We're struggling in the world with people not getting on. We're struggling with people not wanting to accept refugees, people not wanting to accept their neighbours, people not wanting to accept gay people. It's time to talk about it."

The cast of 16 is required to act, sing and dance and "not fall sick" during the run, says Pang, since they have no understudies.

Performers include radio-DJ singer Tabitha Nauser as club dancer Mimi, actress Mina Kaye as performance artist Maureen and rising theatre star Benjamin Chow as film-maker Mark.

Singaporean actor Choo, 27, says what appeals to him is the way the characters in Rent interact as friends, lovers and each other's cheering squad.

He says: "For anyone coming to watch this show in Singapore, it's about community, it's about love in all its forms, it's about devotion."

Kaye, 31, has watched Rent on Broadway and on DVD. She has memorised the role of transvestite character Angel (played here by Aaron Khaled), "hoping that one day they would cast a gender reversal".

  • BOOK IT / RENT

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre

    WHEN: Oct 7 to 23, 7.30pm Tuesday to Friday, 2.30 and 7.30pm Saturday and Sunday, Oct 23, 2.30pm Sunday

    ADMISSION: $30, $50 and $70 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Rated R18 (mature content) most shows; rated Advisory 16 (mature content) for 7.30pm shows Oct 12 and 19 and 2.30pm shows, Oct 15 and 22. For details, go to pangdemonium.com

Maureen is another "dream role". "She lets out the crazy side of me that I'm afraid of showing," the actress says.

Pang both smiles and cringes at such fervent feeling for the musical. The director says: "Every time Rent is mentioned, people go, 'Oh, that's my favourite musical,' and you suddenly realise that's an association for so many people. Every time I hear that, the words get heavier."

Not every member of the cast has always had such happy thoughts about Rent. Australia-based actor Juan Jackson plays tech wizard Collins, who has Aids and is Angel's love interest.

Jackson, 45, has lost friends to Aids and, some years ago, passed up a chance to act in Rent during the Australian run.

"I didn't want to act about it, laugh about it. I just wanted to be as far away as possible."

Then he saw the DVD recording of the final Broadway show and loved it. "I thought it was terrific. It is a classic milestone piece of theatre that people should be so lucky to do. In the beginning, I was so caught up in the tragedy of it, I forgot that it's fun."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'Two ratings for Rent'. Print Edition | Subscribe