Writer: Jonathan Larson
Music: Jonathan Larson
Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Director: Elske Waite
Reviewer: Callum Walker
Just less than 20 years after the opening of Jonathan Larson’s New York rock musical on Broadway, the story and music of Rentcontinue to inspire hope and celebration to audiences and “amplify the voices of a generation”. The Edinburgh University Footlights production successfully interprets Larson’s Tony award winning musical while producing a show that is “as gritty and immediate” as the issues dealt with by its characters.
The initial success of Rent on Broadway was the product of challenging issues in culture being given the limelight rather than being concealed off stage. Inspired by Puccini’s opera La Bohème, Rentfollows the story of a group of young bohemian artists dealing with the struggles of poverty and the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in New York City in the late 80s. The show’s recognition of homosexuality, drug addiction, bohemia vs. commercialism, and the fragility and temporality of life is what makes RENT truly powerful.
The entirely student-run Edinburgh University Footlights’ 2015 production of Rentfantastically encapsulates Larson’s central themes of community, the delicate state of human life and the capacity for hope under a shadow of tragedy. The whole cast, band and production team do on the whole an excellent job at bringing the 1980s Bohemian Alphabet City to life. The show’s greatest strength is certainly the primary cast, all of which were impressive vocally in their rendition of “Seasons of Love” and throughout the performance, but a few do deserve particular recognition: as documentary filmmaker and narrator of the show Mark, Joe Christie confidently sails through his rôle and provides exceptional vocals and charisma from start to finish. Scott Meenan, as the loveable effervescent drag queen Angel is absolutely a treat to watch and really shines in memorable songs like “La Vie Bohème”. Roz Ford as the flirtatious Maureen possesses a show-stopping voice and sizzles with her on-stage girlfriend Caroline Elms (Joanne) in their feisty breakup number “Take Me or Leave Me”.
The production is not completely faultless from start to finish however. Some songs and dance numbers do fall flat compared to others and there are some glitches with production and sound. Nevertheless these issues are irrelevant in the grand scale of the show in its entirety, and ultimately the talent and chemistry of the cast and crew make for an enjoyable and touching evening.
Watching this show it is easy to forget that students run the whole production as the infectious energy of the cast sweeps the audience away to the streets of New York’s East Village and we are left really caring about the characters. Follow Rent’s philosophy of “no day but today”, and go see it now!
Runs until 14 February 2015
Photo Credit:Louise Spence Photography