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5-star RENT is a ‘compelling and enthusiastic production’

RENT St JamesTheatreAt least two actors have told me, separately, that the circumstances surrounding the passing of the writer and composer of Rent, Jonathan Larson, unexpectedly and suddenly dying the night before the show’s first ever preview performance, meant that very little ever changes from production to production in terms of staging or interpretation of characters. This was out of respect and reverence to what some consider a modern masterpiece musical, and to honour the lasting memory of both what was and what might have been, the latter in terms of future theatrical output from Larson had he not had a fatal aortic aneurysm. (If your medical knowledge is as shallow as mine, this is, I am reliably informed, where the main artery from the heart to the abdomen ruptures, causing massive internal bleeding.)

It’s twenty years since that first performance that went ahead despite Larson’s death – an interesting decision in itself – and this seems to be the production that has finally broken the mould and realised that theatre is a living and breathing form of artistic expression that does not need to be set in stone just because its author is no longer around. I do not mean that the creative team behind this production have done to Rent what Julian Fellowes, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe did to Half A Sixpence – in short, giving it a complete overhaul such that it is effectively a different show of the same name – but they have allowed their performers the breathing space to stamp their own authority on the roles they have taken on.

The most obvious example of this is in the part of Roger Davis (Ross Hunter), emotive and engaging, and thus distinct from the relatively detached delivery of Adam Pascal, who played the role in the original Broadway cast; he brought ‘One Song Glory’ to The Night of 1000 Voices concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2010. Will Chase’s rendering of Roger Davis, seen on the DVD Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway, wasn’t that much different from Pascal’s. Hunter’s Roger is so much more appealing, capturing, particularly in the second half, the character’s conflicting feelings and emotions admirably. Billy Cullum’s Mark Cohen is less geeky, less irritating and, frankly, more normal and thus more likeable, than either Adam Kantor’s version on the said 2008 DVD, or Paul Ayres’ interpretation in a concert version I caught at New Wimbledon Theatre in November 2013.

This is, I fully appreciate, a very roundabout way of saying this is the best production of Rent I have seen
to date.

Positioned on two levels to one side of the stage, the band, led by Phil Cornwell, is nothing short of excellent, and the sound levels between musicians and vocalists during musical numbers were well balanced – not an easy achievement for a rock musical. It’s unashamedly loud in places, but never overpoweringly so.

The action is continuous, with sprinkles, especially early on, of actor-musicianship. Setting aside any previous knowledge of the show, I was able to follow the narrative easily as it flows so well and seemingly easily. Stand-out performances, aside from the two aforementioned leads, come from Layton Williams as Angel Schunard – Williams shines with impressive dance moves in the first half – and from Ryan O’Gorman as Tom Collins, who had such a magnificent and rich vocal I could have listened to him reading out the classified football pools results through song and still have been captivated by it.

The choreography (Lee Proud) comes into its own in the ensemble numbers, and particularly in the Act One closer, ‘La Vie Boheme’, which is also remarkably staged well, with tables and chairs smoothly incorporated so cleverly. Philippa Stefani’s Mimi Marquez had a slightly shaky vocal in ‘Out Tonight’, more than made up for in possessing an agreeable stage presence, though she later executes her half of the duet ‘I Should Tell You’ flawlessly.

Despite dealing with issues such as poverty, homelessness, substance misuse and HIV/AIDS, what continually struck me with this production of Rent was how overwhelmingly encouraging and reassuring its overall message is. Whatever our personal circumstances, there really is “no day but today” and this compelling and enthusiastic production left me wanting to see it again. I would, if only the rest of the run wasn’t already sold out.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

This exhilarating landmark musical tells the thrilling story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian excess.

Inspired by Puccini’s classic opera La Boheme, RENT features unforgettable music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson including the much-loved songs Seasons of Love, Take Me or Leave Me and La Vie Boheme. Winner of four Tony(r) Awards, six Drama Desk Awards and the hugely prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama, it ran on Broadway for an astonishing 12 years.

LISTINGS INFORMATION
8 December 2016 to 28 January 2017
St. James Theatre
12 Palace Street
London SW1E 5JA

31 January to 4 February 2017
Devonshire Park Theatre
Compton St
Eastbourne BN21 4BW
Box Office: 01323 412 000
Website: www.eastbournetheatres.co.uk/venue/devonshire-park-theatre

6-11 February 2017
Churchill Theatre
High Street
Bromley
Kent BR1 1HA
Box Office: 020 3285 6000
Website: www.churchilltheatre.co.uk

14-18 February 2017
Festival Theatre
13 / 29 Nicolson Street
Edinburgh, EH8 9FT
Box Office: 0131 529 6000
Website: www.edtheatres.com

28 February – 4 March 2017
Liverpool Empire Theatre
Lime St
Liverpool L1 1JE
Box Office: 0844 871 3017
Website: www.londontheatre1.com/theatres/liverpool-empire-theatre/

7-11 March 2017
New Victoria Theatre
The Ambassadors
Peacocks Centre
Woking
Surrey GU21 6GQ
Box Office: 0844 871 7645
Website: www.londontheatre1.com/theatres/new-victoria-theatre/

28 March to 1 April 2017
Curve
Rutland Street
Leicester LE1 1SB
Box Office: 0116 242 3595
Website: www.curveonline.co.uk

3-8 April 2017
Wales Millennium Centre
Bute Pl
Cardiff Bay
Cardiff CF10 5AL
Box Office: 029 2063 6464
Website: www.wmc.org.uk

11-15 April 2017
Cheltenham Everyman Theatre
Regent Street
Cheltenham GL50 1HQ
Box Office: 01242 572573
Website: www.everymantheatre.org.uk

18-22 April 2017
York Theatre Royal
St. Leonard’s Place
York YO1 7HD
Box Office: 01483 440000
Website: www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

1-6 May 2017
Lighthouse
Poole’s Centre For The Arts
21 Kingland Road
Poole
Dorset BH15 1UG
Box Office: 01202 280000
Website: www.lighthousepoole.co.uk

9-13 May 2017
Belgrade Theatre
Belgrade Square,
Coventry CV1 1GS
Box Office: 024 7655 3055
Website: www.belgrade.co.uk

16-20 May 2017
Nottingham Playhouse
Wellington Circus
Nottingham, NG1 5AF
Box Office: 0115 941 9419
Website: www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk

23-27 May 2017
Assembly Hall Theatre
Crescent Road
Tunbridge Wells
Kent TN1 2LU
Box Office: 01892 530613
Website: www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk

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