RENT – St James Theatre, London

Writer: Jonathan Larson
Director: Bruce Guthrie
Choreography: Lee Proud
Reviewer: Christy Ku

Based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La BohèmeRENT follows the story of a group of young artists struggling to survive and live their bohemian lifestyles in New York City. Meanwhile, the HIV/AIDS epidemic rages on, affecting everyone they love and tearing their lives apart.

tell-us-block_editedThis new production celebrates the 20th anniversary of the musical. The energy is electric and flows through every aspect of the performance; from the actors to the choreography to the set, and the pace is relentless. Dance numbers are high energy and the cast bring a vibrancy to their characters. The set is framed by scaffolding which is ingeniously flexible. Able to spin, detach and transport parts across the stage, it makes the most of a small stage and transforms the space into the madness of Bohemian Alphabet City.

The casting is near perfect with fantastic chemistry between them. Ross Hunter has the raspy yet powerful rock vocals necessary to play Roger Davis, and his version of One Song Glory is spine-tingling. Lucie Jones displays vocal acrobatics for the role of Maureen Johnson while Philippa Stefani delivers an emotional performance of Mimi Marquez. However, Layton Williams steals the show with his performance of Angel Schunard. From his husky voice to incredible athletics, he is made for the role. Today 4 U is a highlight of the show – Williams doesn’t miss a single note of beat despite spinning, swinging and doing the splits across the stage.

Act Two takes on a much heavier and darker tone as the darkness of HIV/AIDS, which was previously a dark cloud, descends upon the characters and their lives. The relationships between Tom Collins (Ryan O’Gorman) and Angel, and Roger and Mimi become heart-wrenching and highly emotional. However, there is an odd dance break in the middle of one of the show’s saddest moments, which is disjointing and takes time for the atmosphere to return. Otherwise, RENT is well paced, knowing when to allow deeper moments and when to inject comedic relief.

The music switches from rock ballads to tango to gospel-inspired numbers, with the band playing spectacularly although at times they are much too loud, managing to drown out the cast’s powerful vocals.

RENT blends sex, tragedy and the desperation to live in the moment. This production is a must-see – but be sure to bring a packet of tissues with you.

Runs until 28 Jan 2017  | Image: Matt Crockett


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