This production, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Rent: The Musical, was as outstanding as the acclaim that the musical has known during its staggering 12-year run on Broadway and beyond. Total justice was done to this work that maintains its power and influence. I have no doubt that Jonathan Larson would have been proud of the talent which brought his show to life: a show that he would sadly never live to see.
Even before the lights go down, our expectations are set almost impossibly high, with the towering stage design that reveals itself to be as versatile as it is imposing; from that moment on, the production does not let up even for a second. Whilst the audience get comfortable in their seats, it is the dancing that immediately grabs their attention. Although the large, full cast numbers are, of course, a pleasure to watch, there is particular magic when the dancers perform individual routines as part of a wonderfully organised chaos, courtesy of Lee Proud, director of choreography. Full of energy and punch, the dancing alone is enough to send shivers down your spine.
Charming and vulgar, hopeful and tragic, the actors manage to find a delicate balance between a number of apparent contradictions in such a touching way, leaving audience and actors alike visibly touched and moved during the bows.
This is particularly true in Tom Collins’ heart wrenching interpretation of ‘Your Eyes’, in which he was able to showcase the beautiful richness of his voice, quite distinct from those of his fellow actors. Ross Hunter and Phillippa Stefani’s performances also deserve special mention, due to the sensitive way in which they are able to punctuate the intensely emotional representation of their love with glimpses of honest comedy, as in their first number together ‘Light My Candle.’
There is not a single weak link in the entire production. Indeed, members of the chorus are often equally as demanding of attention as the leads, due to their irrefutable talent. Jenny O’Leary is a particular pleasure to watch throughout, and whose solo in ‘Seasons of Love’ was a definitely highlight of the production.
Rent continues to be as popular today as it was when it was first performed, undoubtedly as a result of Larson’s vision of creating a contemporary reworking of Puccini’s classic La Bohème, drawing inspiration from artists ranging from rock and roll legends like the Who to Stephen Sondheim.
With seamless transitions from one song – or even genre – to another, the audience is able to admire both the genius that brought this melange of music together and the skill that is required to put it on stage.
Certainly, everyone involved in this anniversary tour production should be incredibly proud of the standing ovation that they received.
Rent: The Musical
Photo credit: Festival Theatre