I said the show was a breath of fresh air when it premiered in the West End in 1998 but thought it was still an average musical. However, on seeing it again I thoroughly enjoyed the show, which is more touching and emotional, then I was aware last time.
It has book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson who sadly died on 25th January 1996 at the young age of 35 just days before the show had its world premiere at the New York Theatre Workshop on 13th February 1996. The show was a smash hit on Broadway, but only ran for 18 months at the Shaftsbury Theatre when it came to the West End. This new production, directed by Paul Kerryson, has been touring the UK since February this year and is receiving another unexpected West End run taking advantage of The Witches Of Eastwick’ early closure.
The musical is inspired by Puccini's "La Boheme" and concerns a group of young people who live in today's New York. Benny, a former roommate of Mark and Roger has bought the building that they live in, including the building next door that is being used as a squat by a group of homeless people. Benny, with the help of his rich father-in-law intends turning the building into a cyber-arts studio, but first they have to evict Mark and Roger and the homeless people. However, the threatened tenants plan a protest to take place midnight Christmas Eve, which results in a riot.
This is a rock musical aimed mainly at the younger generation with subjects of Aids, drugs, S & M, Drag Queens, and gay characters, which is sure to appeal to a ‘hip’ and ‘now’ crowd. However, it does have some powerful messages concerning the bond of friendship and the misery of Poverty.
The show has a rich and diverse selection of characters, which according to the program notes are all based on people that the author knew! Roger, an angry rock musician with Aids is played passionately by Damien Flood who has a strong and stirring voice and Mark, the narrator and film-maker is competently played by Adam Rickitt (Best Known as Nick Tilsley in TV’s Coronation Street). However, Rickitt’s his singing is weak and he looks and sounds as through he is singing through his teeth. When he punches his fist in the air, which he seems to do with regularity, his voice lacked the strength to match the desired visual effect. This is not too serious though as he looked and acted the part warmly, and was particularly convincing in the emotional scenes. Neil Couperthwaite as the drag queen Angel and Nykal Rand as his boyfriend Collins are particularly outstanding. They both had terrific voices and the ability to make you feel and care for their characters. Also worth mentioning are Debbie Kurup as Mimi and Wendy Mae Brown as Joanne who are both convincing. But, to be fair all the company performed with exuberant energy and passion.
Reviews in so far from the popular press…NICHOLAS DE JONGH for the EVENING STANDARD says, “I am still hooked by the high, sad romance of Rent. This famous, mid-Nineties American musical that makes a song and dance affair of Aids and drug addiction… has not lost its pulling-power. He goes on to say, “Rent, despite some escapist, pretentious and absurd elements, speaks convincingly to and about young American outsiders.” LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says , “The plot is so underdeveloped, and relationships so scanty “ And goes on to say, “In some ways the old-fashioned, fake-smiles posturing of shows such as Kiss Me Kate seems more honest than this emotionally manipulative and undistinguished evening.”
Rent is a compelling and vibrant show with a message of hope. If you didn’t care much for the show last time then give it another go, like me, you may be pleasantly surprised second time round.
Photos of Adam Rickitt, Damian Flood & Debbie Kurup courtesy of EPO
Links to full reviews from newspapers...
Next Review by Jonathan Richards
Paul Kerryson's energetic touring production of the Broadway hit Rent is a hit and miss affair. This production originated at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre and then proceeded to tour the UK and is making a one month pitstop at the Prince of Wales Theatre (but if rumours are to be believed, it may transfer to a different venue later on).
I missed Rent when the original Broadway production came to London in 1998 and "flopped" and this touring version is allegedly similar, so I am by no means one of the many fans which this show has amassed over the years. The vitality and sheer energy of the cast as well as the great score certainly won me over, and overall the cast is very strong vocally, but Kerryson's staging fails to make the evening seem more than an impressive concert version.
Rent is essentially a modern, New York set re-working of Puccini's "La Boheme"; the strong story is there. However the narrative runs dodgily throughout Rent. Muggy amplification, messy blocking and Kentaur's composite set often make it hard either to understand what is going on or where you are. Add to this Adam Rickitt as Mark, the show's narrator, with his poor diction and dodgy accent and sometimes you can feel a little lost. Neverthless if you just sit back and enjoy the exhuberance of what is going on, you will not be too disappointed.
There are some particularly strong performances (although there were 4 understudies on the night of my visit). Debbie Kurup as Mimi is a knock-out. Not only does she have one of the strongest voices of the cast but she also handles the dramatically emotional demands of her role well with most moving results. Tom Kavanan understudied the part of Roger, a musician living with AIDS who has grown pessimistic - he too sings well and (apparently) is better than Damien Flood who normally plays this role. Jane Doyle's Maureen will have you wetting yourself with laughter and Wendy Mae Brown has the most sensational Diva-esque voice. Adam Rickitt has received a lot of negative press for his portrayal of Mark (an amateur filmmaker), and whilst his singing voice is very nasal and some of his lines are lost either to his accent or his rushed mumble, he plays a convincingly geeky character lost to himself - so better than I expected. Neil Couperthwaite is also good as Angel, a drag queen, since he never camps his part to the point in which he becomes an annoying queen, so therefore the audience can sympathise with what ensues...
The late Jonathan Larson's part rock part ballad score has some terrific showstoppers (Seasons of Love, La Vie Boheme...), some witty comic numbers and also some moving solos and duos for the youthful Bohemian community many of whom are waiting to die from AIDS. Where we as an audience sometimes suffer is at the writer's lyrics which are sometimes too wordy (and hence are lost in this production), or have clunky rhymes ("stay" with "oiy vey" or "No more! Oh no! I've gotta go") or naff phrases full of oversentimentality. However, Larson's simplicity is often more moving than it is annoying or phoney.
Rent is not be the greatest of musicals of the last decade, but it is one of the better ones. Sadly, I felt this production could not quite do the material justice. But if this kind of musical attracts a younger, different sort of theatre audience as it seems to be doing, then I can hardly resent its presence in the West End.