The Everyman Theatre production of "Rent" in rehearsal at the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic. Acting out a scene are Jarrad West (character, Tom Collins), right and Adrian Flor (character, Angel Dumott Schunard).

The Everyman Theatre production of Rent in rehearsal at the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic. Acting out a scene are Jarrad West (as Tom Collins), right and Adrian Flor (as Angel Dumott Schunard). Photo: Graham Tidy

Jonathan Larson's multi-award-winning musical Rent rocks into the Courtyard Studio at the Canberra Theatre Centre on Thursday.

It's an intimate space and the audience will be seated on three sides of Nick Valois' industrial-style set with the six-piece band, led by Nick Griffin, at the back.

Griffin said, ''It's a really rock-y show; I love the music in it'' and said his ensemble was ''really, really tight'' and could handle the score's challenges.

Acting out a scene is Louiza Blomfield, who plays Joanne Jefferson.

Louiza Blomfield plays Joanne Jefferson. Photo: Graham Tidy

Kelly McGann had the challenge of designing the lighting for a production which is not presented in a traditional theatre setting with the audience just in front. She used colours and shapes to create moods and imagery where appropriate, but said, ''It's not a flashy show. I wanted to create a look for when the characters are happy and use blue for when it's cold.''

Jarrad West, who is directing the show for Everyman Theatre, said Rent, based on the Puccini opera La Boheme updated to New York City in the late 1980s, ''is about living in the face of adversity, living for today, taking what joy you can from each moment''.

West also plays Tom Collins, the philosopher among the group of friends around whom the story revolves. He has AIDS, and he falls in love with the similarly afflicted street musician Angel (Adrian Flor).

Documenting the year over which the musical's action takes place is struggling filmmaker Mark (Mathew Chardon O'Dea). He lives with musician Roger (Valois), who is HIV-positive and a former drug addict, in a building owned by their former friend Benny (Will Huang), who married into wealth.

Louiza Blomfield plays Joanne, an Ivy League lawyer with whom Mark's ex-girlfriend Maureen (Julia Jenkins) is now in a relationship.

For Blomfield, Rent's message is summed up in one of its best-known songs, Seasons of Love, asking what the best way is to measure the value of a life.

Amy Fitzpatrick, one of the members of the ensemble said, ''It's not a big cast: we do a lot.'' Another ensemble member, Lachlan Ruffy, plays several roles, including an abusive policeman, an angry waiter, and a member of an AIDS support group.

Of the last, he said, ''That's one of my favourite parts of the show. He was meant to have died three years ago and disagrees with the credo of the support group, living for today: he's too afraid to do anything.''

But other characters embrace the live-for-today credo passionately and that zest for life has helped make Rent a success.

The point is underlined by the poignancy of Larson's fate: he died of an aneurysm the night before the show's premiere.

Rent opens Thursday at 8pm in the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre and is on December 7-8, 12-15 and 19-22 at 8pm with 2pm shows on December 15 and 22. Tickets $42/$35 (Wednesday all tickets $35). Not suitable for children. Bookings: 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au