Rent: 20th Anniversary Concert
Second time lucky? Our reviewer falls in love with this new production of Rent.
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Cult smash-hit musical Rent follows the lives of a group of young people and their discovery to find love, escape eviction and defy life's deadly offerings. After a critically acclaimed tour early this year, the production returns for a second round of dates, spreading more of its love around a country that seems crazy for this gripping rock-opera. Having seen the Broadway production in December of 2007, Rent wasn’t a favourite of mine beforehand... how opinions can change!
Lead by rock-vocalist Rory Taylor, most recognized for his time on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for a leading man in Jesus Christ Superstar, the star nails every part of this vocally demanding role. An often angry yet rather touching interpretation of Roger, his character tries to battle his way through life with AIDS. Joined by narrator Paul Ayres as Mark: an ambitious filmmaker and recently dumped boyfriend, left for another woman by girlfriend Joanne. Ayres is a geeky, loveable character. A vocally superb duo.
Following in the footsteps of a currently touring Wicked star is no easy ride, but former Atomic Kitten member Natasha Hamilton, a new addition to the cast, seems relatively unfazed, bringing the voice and look to rival any Maureen, totally rocking the part's signature cat-suit and heels. Her lesbian lover Joanne, played by Hannah Levane, is no doubt the envy of many in theatreland. Any questions around the talent of the former Atomic Kitten star are answered during the duo’s sexy rendition of Take Me or Leave Me.
Leon Lopez and Ian Stroughair, as gay lovers Collins and Angel, are both utterly adorable and totally heartbreaking. The pair brings the lighter moments of the piece with Stroughair, famous in London as alter ego Velma Celli, providing the majority as the excitable cross-dresser Angel. The duo then smash through your heart like a train as they reduce the entire theatre to tears in the formidable act two favourite I’ll Cover You.
However, the shows star comes in the form of Rachel John. Replacing West End veteran Kerry Ellis is no easy task, however the We Will Rock You star leaves the pressure behind and lets her truly remarkable voice do all the talking. The powerhouse diva, sex appeal and all, smashes through every song and scene, and John’s version of Out Tonight is deserving of the ticket price alone.
The production values were as slick and perfect as the performances, featuring superb lighting and design. Although at times the show does suffer from poor direction and oddly organized blocking, the talent of the performers doesn’t suffer. Supported by an ensemble of five strong vocalists, Rent in Concert is in great hands across all aspects.
Any fans of the original film will no-doubt enjoy seeing the film brought together on stage. Rent spent a small time in London's West End back in 2007 in the newly titled Rent Remixed. Lead by stage star Denise Van Outen as Maureen, that production drastically crashed after only four months of opening. Here’s hoping this piece gets the West End time and staging it deserves. I’m almost certain touring productions don’t come better than this.
Tickets for Rent: the 20th Anniversary Concert can be found at: www.rentinconcert.co.uk.
GT gives this a: 5/5
Words: William J Connolly
Photo: Darren Bell Photography