St James Theatre, London – until 28 January 2017
As you can imagine I have seen a tremendous amount of theatre and like all reviewers you take the rough with the smooth. Knowing that the whole run at St James Theatre to celebrate Rent’s 20th anniversary is sold out, I felt incredibly privileged to be able to see it. However, it made me question just why was this particular production so popular?
Jonathan Larson’s musical, inspired by Puccini’s opera La Bohème, won four Tony Awards, six Drama Desk Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1996. Ben Brantley’s New York Times review was a love letter to the show, calling RENT an “exhilarating, landmark rock opera”. RENT ran on Broadway for 12 years, from 1996 to 2008. The show premiered in London’s West End in 1998 at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where it ran for 18 months. It was adapted into a film in 2005.
Whilst the original opera on which Rent is based, was centred around tuberculosis, Larson draws on what he felt his generation was living under the shadows of, AIDS. Many of Larson’s friends at the time of writing had HIV and whilst he was healthy Rent is his way of trying to make sense of what his friends were dealing with. The subject is brutally real and raw and this cast delivers it with tenderness and poignancy.
The energy of this production knows no limits, building every so often, to a crescendo with palpable feeling. It follows friends, relationships circumstances, life and death. Your emotions leap, sore and plummet as you are taken on a journey observing as a fly on a wall through all the “Seasons of Love”.
Choreography is some of the sharpest I’ve seen this year, which is no surprise, given that it is provided by Lee Proud, a firm favourite choreographer of mine. Directed by Bruce Guthrie it’s hard sometimes just to know where to cast your eyes. The full use of the innovative staging makes for an enthralling and truly captivating production.
I could easily wax lyrical about every single cast member, the phenomenal talent amongst them oozes from every single person on that stage. However I will mention just a few that to me were outstanding. Philippa Stefani as Mimi initially feisty, an intriguing character, capturing your heart immediately whilst you know that her addiction is an habitual travesty which will only ultimately cause devastation. Roger played by Ross Hunter is a powerful partner who knows only to well of the demons and challenges that Mimi faces.
Rent Production Images by Matt Crockett
However for me the stand out performance of this five-star production is Layton Williams as Angel. This dynamite portrayal of Angel Schunard really leaves you stunned into silence over this immense talent. His dancing and acting has you breathless and I have to say when Angel makes the initial entrance the only comment you can utter is “that’s how you make an entrance!” With iconic numbers such as “Seasons of Love” it really is a joy to watch, however we all know that sorrow often follows and the depths that this show takes you too, means that you are exhausted by the time the cast take their bows. All credit to them that we are left feeling this way.
This show is as relevant now as it has ever been. I for one am thrilled that we are celebrating its 20th anniversary and with such a fantastic production I now totally understand why this run is sold out. But don’t fear its tour will resume so I implore to grab that ticket and go and see it when it’s near you, this cast needs to have full audiences to share in its splendour.
A triumphant 20th anniversary celebration of a modern classic, not to be missed!