Rent the incredible groundbreaking multi-award winning rock musical is currently touring the UK as it celebrates its 20th anniversary. Its current stop is at Curve Leicester.
The musical is a creation of genius by Jonathan Larson who wrote the music, lyrics and the book. It’s loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème and follows a group of youths who are struggling to survive and create life in New York’s East Village under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.
Larson’s musical is nothing short of remarkable and this current production is probably the best production of the show that I have seen. Rent has been in my life for a number of years, firstly the 2005 film brought it to my attention and then I saw an amateur production in Wales. Most recently I saw the 2013 tour which starred Kerry Ellis as Mimi.
As soon as we walked into the Curve auditorium you felt a sense that it would be a great production. Anne Fleischle’s excellent set design sets the tone instantly, with a scaffolding feel to the multi-tiered set. The live music is superb. The wonderful choreography is provided by the work of Lee Proud. Under the director of Bruce Guthrie, this is Rent at it’s very best.
The cast for this production is maybe the strongest cast I’ve seen all round in any show. Billy Cullum is great as Mark Cohen and matches the power of Ross Hunter’s Roger Davis. Hunter is strong throughout vocally and his rendition of ‘One Song Glory’ is very passionately sung. Ryan O’Gorman is hugely likeable as Tom Collins, and his heartbreaking I’ll Cover You Reprise is a showstopper in the second act. I found his vocal performance throughout is deeply touching.
Layton Williams is excellent as Angel. His performance a real stand out in a cast full of standouts! Williams’s Angel bursts on with style with the number ‘Today 4 U’, where high kicks and the splits are all part of the choreography which Williams pulls off with aplomb. The whole character of Angel is central to the story and Williams is completely engaging and you feel connected right from his first moments. The touching love story between Williams’s Angel and O’Gorman’s Tom is beautiful.
Philippa Stefani is brilliant as Mimi. Mimi is a difficult character, she’s a club dancer as you see in Mimi’s big number in the first act, ‘Out Tonight’ with Stefani sings with great power. Mimi is also a drug addict. She also has HIV like Roger who she becomes the love interest too. The final scenes of the show are particularly powerful and Stefani’s acting is nothing short of excellent throughout. You can see the drain it takes out on her and that’s a huge credit to her acting ability.
Lucie Jones is superb as Maureen, her vocal range is so strong that it’s clear to see why she is representing the UK at this years Eurovision Song Contest. She’s flirty, beautiful and just good fun to watch. Her best moments come in the epic duet of ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’ alongside Shanay Holmes as Joanne. Holmes is so watchable every time she is on stage and absolutely beautiful voice. ‘The Tango Maureen’ in act one with her and Cullum’s Roger is fantastic.
Javar La’Trail Parker is great as Benjamin Coffin III. As is all the supporting cast Jenny O’Leary, Katie Bradley, Joshua Dever, Kevin Yates, Bobbie Little, Christina Modestou, Jordan Laviniere, Oliver Bingham, Harrison Clark and Raffaella Covino.
One of the biggest appeals to the show is the music, Larson’s music throughout is touching, moving and hugely likeable. Seasons of Love is the show’s most known number, but there are many great other numbers, ‘Rent’, ‘One Song Glory’, ‘Out Tonight’, ‘Will I?’, ‘La Vie Boheme’, ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’, ‘Without You’, ‘What You Own’ to name but some! A particular favourite of mine and my partner is ‘I’ll Cover You’ which have labelled ‘our song’, it’s a song that means a lot to us and seeing it sung beautifully by Ryan O’Gorman and Layton Williams last night was joyful. I think lyrically Rent is the best musical out there.
Rent is a beautiful piece of theatre and this production has to be up there with the best in the 20 years this show has run for. It’s live theatre at its most moving, emotional and it’s powerful best. I’d highly recommend catching one of it’s remaining tour dates, all of which can be found on the show’s website (click here).