Celebrating 20 years since it’s first staged performance, West End and Broadway leading lady Kerry Ellis stars with runner up of ITV’s Superstar Rory Taylor in this concert of the hit musical RENT.
Set in the East Village of New York City, Jonathan Larson’s RENT is about falling in love, finding your voice and living for today. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this musical has become a pop culture phenomenon with songs that resonates with audiences of all ages. Taking Giacomo Puccini’s La boheme as its inspiration, RENT follows a year in the life of a group of friends struggling to make it in the big city under the shadow of HIV and AIDS in the early 90’s.
Despite opening in the West End in 1998 and running for only 18 months, RENT is one of a band of musicals which has inspired a dedicated following down the years, all the most astonishing is the fact that it has achieved a mythical status among theatre fans whose only exposure to the show is the 2005 film.
This concert version, which has been imaginatively designed to re-create some of the atmosphere of the original stage production affords fans of the show the chance to finally experience the music live. Whilst never able to convey the emotion of the fully staged musical this production delivers on many levels.
Primarily it is the casting that elevates this above your run of the mill re-hashes of musical classics. Standout amongst a fine ensemble cast is ITV Superstar runner up Rory Taylor as Roger. During that show Taylor got the chance to showcase his vocal talents so it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise that he was so impressive. His range and tone were a true treat for the ears, he also delivered a finely judged acting performance as the young musician and songwriter. The same cannot be said though for Kerry Ellis, her status among theatre fans having always been a mystery to me – every time I have seen her, her voice has either been seriously underpowered or she has been utterly lifeless. Here she doesn’t fare well as Mimi the HIV positive erotic dancer – she looked as if she was dialling in her performance and there was much and very vocal muttering from the audience during the interval and at the end. We can only be thankful that due to a fine casting director we were spared seeing her in the show-stopping role of Maureen – the lesbian performance artist – here the role goes to scene-stealer Nickki Davis-Jones who gives a master class in how to fully inhabit a role. Eliciting some audience participatory moooos during her vivid performance art! Also deserving of praise is Iain Stroughair as the AIDS suffering, percussion playing, gay, drag queen Angel, when he is on stage it is impossible not to be mesmerised by him, playing the role with such commitment and tenderness that his untimely end was met with sobs from the audience.
The quality of the rest of the cast is exceptional, in particular Beth Humphries and Tim Prottey-Jones who get to display their impressive vocals in the beloved Seasons of Love. The production values too are impressive – many could learn from a show of such high quality – the thought that has gone into the staging should be applauded – the only bugbear being the size of this venue, the stage is massive and the audience in the stalls have to constantly look side to side and up and down to keep track of everyone onstage – physiotherapy needed all round. That aside this was a rare opportunity to see a cast and show of such high quality. Let’s only hope there will be more like it.