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.

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