Book/Music/Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Director: David Wood
Reviewer: John Roberts
Making its initial debut for a three week workshop run at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1994, which was followed by an Off-Broadway production on the 25th January 1996 (which makes the musical we come to see and hear today only 17 years old – not the 20 years this production celebrates) Jonathan Larson’s rock musical still stands as one of the greatest musicals of our generation.
Based on the opera La Boheme, Larson transferred Puccini’s story the East Village of New York in the 1980s. We follow a group of friends who struggle to live with the challenges of fighting for what they believe in (love, equality and freedom) and the daily fight that Aids has on their lives.
While it is undeniable that Larson’s musical is powerful and one could argue that it never fails to get people onto their feet (clearly evident in Liverpool), one never feels that this production truly hits the mark to make it THE production to celebrate this milestone anniversary.
David Woods production certainly has some names attached to it –headlining the production is fan girl favourite Kerry Ellis who never really convinces as a 19 year old drug dying drug addict, and here lies the rub, the casting of the female rôles seem to be slightly miscast. Ellis would have far suited the rôle of Maureen; who here, it must be said is played brilliantly by another former Wicked lead Nikki Davis-Jones – she manages to really steal the show during ‘Over the Moon’ and Jemma Alexander gives a strong performance in the rôle of Joanne.
The casting of the male rôles fairs considerably better. In the rôle of Roger is runner up in ITV’s Superstar Rory Taylor who gave a heartfelt and powerful rendition of the rôle in front of a home crowd and clearly makes his stamp as a real star. Ian Stroughair is a delight as the flamboyant and lovable Angel and while Wood’s direction sticks a little too close to original characterisations Stroughair provides plenty of originality to make the part his own, but the show is really stolen by Leon Lopez as Collins, a touching and well measured performance and one of the best renditions of ‘Your Eyes’ I have ever heard.
The Ensemble however really let the production down, on many occasions coming in flat or out of tune, especially noticeable when singing on their own – however during Seasons of Love, Katie Bernstein and Tim Prottey-Jones take the infamous moments of the song in their stride, however one does need to question whether all ex contestants of ITV’s Superstar have to do an obligatory Falsetto scream in every show they have done since the programme?
Rent: The 20th Anniversary production has real moments of genuine delight, but they are however marred by several moments that could have easily been ironed out with a little more attention to detail, an enjoyable evening hearing a great musical, but one that won’t stand out as the must see version of the show.
Reviewed on 27th April 2013