Review: Rent, The Musical (20th Anniversary Tour)

Rent is a fairly undervalued musical created by Jonathan Larson, opening in 1996, centralising around themes of love, loss, diversity and self-discovery. The original production won 4 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), is the 11th longest-running Broadway show, has been made into a film and now it is back. Having started at the St James Theatre in London, Rent will be touring the UK for the first several months of 2017 for its 20th Anniversary Tour.

This tour breathes fresh air into the show, making its themes and issues more relevant than ever. Most importantly, it celebrates difference. It shows a utopian openness and acceptance of sexuality, gender and ethnicity that we can only wish existed in all societies today. Layton Williams plays the character Angel flawlessly, throwing incredible dance moves, and even the splits, on stage.

The love, loss and heartbreak exhibited by this young cast really do show that there is ‘No Day But Today’. The raw emotion conveyed by the cast, particularly Ryan O’Gorman and Philippa Stefani, left no dry eye in the theatre. O’Gorman’s deep but rich vocals portray the unexplainable pain of his character Collins, specifically in the reprise of ‘I’ll Cover You’. In complete contrast, the absolute madness of Maureen Johnson was superbly demonstrated by Lucie Jones, creating a much more care-free dimension to the character that hasn’t been executed to such a high standard before.

Rent is a wonderful musical for highlighting the talents of the ensemble and that can definitely be said for this specific production. The solos in ‘Seasons of Love’ give these actors an opportunity to shine that is certainly fulfilled by Jenny O’Leary who smashed the high notes.

The audience was full of ‘Rentheads’, committed fans of the show, who were definitely impressed. This version gave new elements to characters that hadn’t been shown before. Billy Cullum creates a Mark that is loveable and relatable, yet still shows the struggles of being an artist, collaboratively with the character Roger. The musical tackles under-appreciation of the arts, a pertinent theme still relevant to society today. Cullum, with Shanay Holmes, must be applauded for an incredible rendition of ‘Tango: Maureen’ with exceptional choreography and still managing to sing immaculately.

The music, directed by Phil Cornwell, fitted perfectly with the acting, set and production, but sometimes overpowered the vocalists on stage. The set was rusty, broken and old – perfect for the show! The characters launched across the stage, climbing up and down the scaffolding effortlessly.

In its entirety, this production of Rent was exceptional. The youthful cast keep the action moving and the emotion flowing. It displays a more sarcastic performance that suits the show and makes for lighter, more humorous scenes between those heart wrenching moments. Bruce Guthrie should be commended on his direction and the final product, that almost definitely does more justice to Larson’s writing than the original production and certainly the film. Anyone with the opportunity to see this musical should definitely go and enjoy themselves. They will realise that people are worth loving, life is worth living and songs are worth singing.

Words by Will Moore

“In these dangerous times, where it seems that the world is ripping apart at the seams, we all can learn how to survive from those who stare death squarely in the face every day and [we] should reach out to each other and bond as a community, rather than hide from the terrors of life at the end of the millennium.” – Jonathan Larson

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