Writer: Jonathan Larson
Director: Bruce Guthrie
Reviewer: John Roberts
In 1993, New York’s Musical Theatre Workshop put on a reading of a new musical by the relatively unknown composer Jonathan Larson, several workshop productions later the show was set to open with a full production on the 100th Anniversary of Puccini’s La Boheme – the very opera that Larson had based his musical on. Having seen the dress rehearsal, Larson tragically passed away that same evening, never being able to see the powerful production he wrote come to life in front of an audience.
20 years later Bruce Guthrie’s excellent anniversary production has RENT firmly stamped across the whole production. Larson’s tale of love, loss and fighting for opportunity has found a place in many people’s hearts and it looks like Guthrie’s production will introduce a whole new generation to this powerful piece of musical theatre.
A vibrant, energetic cast pump out raw emotion at every possible opportunity, Lee Proud’s engaging choreography is at times breathtaking – La Vie Boheme being a particular highlight. Anna Fleishle’s set design is reminiscent of the original production, with its scaffold towers, but underneath the neon and chrome, lies some clever video projection which really brings the production to life. Loren Elstein’s costumes command attention – she has managed to balance the vibrancy of a bohemian lifestyle with sex appeal perfectly. Rick Fisher’s lighting design ties production elements up neatly – bold choices mean the lighting adds immense atmosphere and gives RENT a rock concert edge.
As the young protagonist Mark Cohen, Billy Callum warms himself up gently in the role, really coming into his own towards the back end of act one and into the emotionally heavy act two. Ross Hunter looks every inch the rocker as Roger Davis but at times his vocals seem a little “too nice” and could do with having a more edgier/raspy tone at times especially during the heavy rockier numbers… That is one major issue with this production the music seems to be a little quiet, if you are watching RENT you want the musical score and the lyrics to hit you in a strong and guttural way, however here at the Empire, its as if the sound has been pulled back and thats a real shame for the overall effect of the show.
Shanay Holmes is an understated Joanne, her performance brings a gentler, more calming and refreshing side to a character which is normally has a little more bite, Lucie Jones is a great Maureen her rendition of Over the Moon being a strong highlight of the production. Understudy Jordan Laviniere takes on the role of drag queen Angel and gives a charming performance full of vibrancy. Philippa Stefani gives an emotionally charged Mimi full of pain and one can’t help but be brought to tears from her performance in the second act, likewise Ryan O’Gorman gives a show-stopping rendition of Live in My House: Reprise his velvety dulcet tones lending perfectly to the song.
RENT is a modern classic of the musical theatre genre and Guthrie’s production fully deserves the standing ovation gained at the Liverpool Empire, if they could sort out the few issues that the show has in the venue this could easily be a 5-star smash hit.
Runs until 4 March 2017 | Image: Contributed