Rent – 20th Anniversary Production

This new production has been mounted to mark the 20th anniversary of Rent’s arrival on the musical theatre scene in New York. Since then, it has taken the world by storm, with successful productions all over the globe.

Set in the 90s, it follows a group of ‘creatives’ with high ideals and low income. Desperately trying to find their way in the world fighting to keep the landlord at bay, they soon find that there is something else blocking the sun. AIDS is sweeping through their community with tragic consequences.

The show is filled with the angst of youth searching for their voice. We see the characters over the course of a year and see optimism turn to despair, flirtation turn to love, happiness turn to tragedy, and darkness turn to hope.

Directed by Bruce Guthrie, this production is faithful to the original Broadway staging. It is homage to what went before and instantly recognisable to fans of the DVD made on the last night of its New York run. The show has been given a little tinker and made to feel fresh once more, notably through the choreography of Lee Proud. The movement works well in the confines of a touring space and succeeds in giving the show energy.

The company works seamlessly together, doing justice to the music and lyrics crafted by Jonathon Larson over the period of six years. Incidentally, I believe his story, creating Rent and bringing it to a wider audience before his untimely death the night before the opening at the age of 35, would make an interesting musical – but that’s for another time.

Stand out performances came from Ross Hunter as Roger providing the personification of the tortured musician. His performance was, at times, subtle in conveying the horrors of his past and the limbo of his present. His touching love song to the dying Mimi was a highlight of the production. Also mention must go to Layton Williams as the effervescent Angel. A favourite character with audiences, Williams really worked the crowd with his opening number featuring an energetic routine, comprising of backflips, the splits and high kicks galore – and all in heels. But while Williams proved the showman as the drag queen with heart who is everyone’s friend, he also brought a tenderness to the character and his death, caused by AIDS, was a moment with excellent direction and handled superbly, striking the right note with the audience.

Rent has spent the last 20 years as a favourite musical of many with many of the shows numbers being recognisable to all. Its enduring appeal is linked to its theme of human survival against the odds. It’s the little man standing up to the corporation, the establishment and disease. While it is set in a time and place distant to many, its message lives on and I’m sure in 20 years, we will be marking it’s 40th anniversary.

Imelda Staunton is back on stage

Not once, but twice this year will theatregoers have the chance to witness one of the finest actors ever to tread the boards.

Imelda Staunton will be starring in the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre. Later on, she will be at the National in a revival of Sondheim’s Follies.

 

On stage she is known for her performances in hit musicals, notably Into the Woods, Sweeney Toddand most recently Gypsy. So what will audiences expect when seeing her in a straight play. Will they be missing out on something?

Having seen her in a straight play, Hampstead Theatre’s Good People, back in 2014, it is safe to say that audiences will be more than satisfied. In both musicals and plays, Staunton acts with every fibre of her being, drawing on great energy and putting it into everything she does. She is a consummate actor, able to portray a vast spectrum of emotions and carry the audience along with her.  She is one of these actors that when you know they are in something, you know it is going to be good. In fact, in Staunton’s case, you know it is going to be brilliant.

Her last appearance on the London stage was as Mama Rose in the Chichester revival of Gypsy. The part called for a strong woman, able to hold her own and command the stage but at the same time add a layer of fragility and desperation to the character. Beg or borrow a copy of the soundtrack or the DVD of the production and see for yourself. It will give you a flavour of what to expect. A real tour de force.

Please, do not take my word for it. I implore you to go and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

Star Casting Vs. Understudy

More and more, shows are being sold on who is in them and not what the show is. While this is useful to producers who wish to get bums on seats and recover their investment, it often leads to some ugly behaviour among theatregoers.

I remember when I went to see Cabaret at the Savoy, Will Young was playing the role of Emcee but on the night I went along, he was indisposed due to illness. Many people were clamouring at the box office to get their ticket exchanged for a different performance but worse was when the house lights went down. When the announcement came that the role was to be played by the understudy and Young was not to appear, there was a dissatisfied, disgusted groan from some audience members. Fortunately, those who had come to see the show and not the ‘star’ applauded the understudy and he was outstanding in the role.
Much press has been given to the understudy role in the past year with high profile cast illnesses including Glenn Close, Sheridan Smith and Amber Riley. While, if you have booked a show to see a certain celebrity I can see you would be frustrated if you had paid the inflated ticket prices which leads to the question, are the star billings always worth it?
If having a star name means you have to put up ticket prices and face the possibility of out pricing certain audience members, producers need to question why they are in the business at all. Yes, it is a business and you have to make money to survive but that shouldn’t be at the cost of theatre. The show should come first.
So I don’t mind if the name above the title on the poster is not in the show if they are poorly, they are human after all. The understudy has that job because they are just as able to undertake that role and, so long as the show is the same and quality maintained, then I am happy.

Where do you stand on the debate?

Stepping Out Review

“Audiences will not be disappointed”

Tits and teeth is the name of the game at the Vaudeville Theatre. Put on your best smile and face front. That is the lesson given to Mavis’s hapless tap class and it becomes clear that the characters adopt this in their lives, using the class as a means of escape.

Richard Harris’s Stepping Out is back in the West End.  A comedy set around a group of people brought together each week at their tap class. From all walks of life, they are not a bunch you would naturally group together, and it is that mix of characters that makes it such an enjoyable play. They are well constructed, and in this instance well played, to a degree where the audience cares about their plight and when their stories are revealed, we feel for the characters.

Set in a dingy church hall in 1983, the play sees the hapless tappers using the tap class to muddle through life, but all is disturbed when the chance to perform at a charity gala arises. Arguments and drama arise due to the tensions of putting themselves under the spotlight, a group of people whom in their private life, shy away from such attention.

The production is well executed and Maria Friedman has done a great job in directing the piece, drawing out the comedy and the heart in the story. Top billing has gone to Amanda Holden, a known face on television and sure to pull in the crowds.  However, the show’s star is the ensemble who work together with a great dynamic to deliver lines and business with excellent comic timing and style. Also of note is Anna Jane Casey who has stepped in (pun intended) to the role of Mavis, the class leader at short notice. The role was originally to be played by Tamzin Outhwaite who has, unfortunately, had to withdraw due to an injury.

A fun, light-hearted show, audiences will not be disappointed and will find themselves rooting for the characters as they take on their big tap number.