I had the privilege of first seeing Rent on Broadway back in 2006 some 10 years after its first show. Now here I am in my hometown witnessing a revamped 20th Anniversary tour proving this original story (book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson) still needs to be heard.
I wish I had seen the film before the Broadway show as their set design was minimal making it difficult to visual where some scenes took place. This time round I’ve brought my mum along who hasn’t seen the film or the rock musical before and doesn’t really know much about the story. My mind was quickly put at ease though as this set was far more superior and really helped bring the story to life – mum had no problem following the story.
We start on Christmas Eve and follow a year in the life of a group of young artists in NYCs East Village at a time where life was a struggle, drugs and HIV were rife and yet love always conquers all…
With a stunning soundtrack, this cast needed to be on point and they didn’t disappoint. Every member from the main characters to the ensemble was entertaining, dark, funny, sexual and all things in between at exactly the right moments. All of them sung their hearts out and acted with ease.
We start in the apartment of filmmaker Mark (Billy Cullem) who tries to keep the group of friends together whilst hiding behind his camera and his guitarist friend Roger (Ross Hunter) who since contracting HIV from his former girlfriend before she committed suicide is keen to be remembered by one last song and in the process has become a bit of a recluse.
On his way to said apartment their friend Tom Collins (Ryan O’Gorman) is mugged and as old friend turned landlord Benny (Javar La’Trail Parker) is issuing Mark and Roger an ultimatum, Collins is being saved by an Angel.
Layton Williams as drag artist Angel Schunard is sensational especially in number “Today 4 U” (I wish I had those legs) and the love story that unfolds between Angel and Collins is one of joy and heartbreak. Ryan’s strong voice complemented Layton’s perfectly especially in the duet “I’ll Cover You.”
Meanwhile, Roger’s sorrow is interrupted by exotic dancer Mimi who as a junkie is feeling the cold she knocks on Roger’s door asking him to “Light My Candle.”
Philippa Stefani as Mimi is beautiful, vulnerable and sexy and gives a knock out performance of “Out Tonight” – I don’t know how she had the guts to swing around on that moving staircase!
Just 3 days after representing the UK at Eurovision I was surprised to see Lucie Jones back in her role as eccentric performer Maureen – Mark’s ex-girlfriend who is staging a protest against the proposal to demolish the artistic space in place of a cyber studio. If Lucie was fatigued by the weekend’s events it certainly didn’t show. She commanded the stage with a brilliant routine incorporating “Over the Moon” and even got the crowd moo’ing.
Lucie had stage presence throughout even when in the background and shared great chemistry with all the cast – Lucie belongs on a musical stage that was clear to see and her performance of “Take Me or Leave Me” with on/off girlfriend Joanne, played by the gorgeous Shanay Holmes was another highlight.
Ross Hunter (Roger) had the best rock vocals, Billy Cullum (Mark) was a great story teller – just as a filmmaker should be – and performed a great “Tango:Maureen” with Shanay Holmes (Joanne.)
The best numbers of the night for me were “La Vie Boheme” and of course “Seasons of Love” which I could listen to all night – especially when done so powerfully well (gave me goose bumps.)
Absolutely worthy of its standing ovation – with rapturous applause whoops and hollering accompanying all musical numbers, this audience were not even dampened by the technical hitch that stopped play for a few moments at the end.
This new production directed by Bruce Guthrie has a stellar cast – an outstanding piece of art not to be missed.
Loved it and wish I could come again 10/10.
Rent, Nottingham Playhouse until 20th May