Eight young people in New York. One year. Love, loss and life.
Loosely based on Puccini’s La Boheme and challenging all manner of stereotypes, Rent is a musical with a strong cult following and it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s now 20 years old. In this concert performance, directed by Daniel Wood, the audience are given the full Rent experience, complete with live band on stage.
The story begins on Christmas Eve and follows eight friends living in the shadow of HIV during the course of one year. The cast is strong and the great thing about Rent is that the ensemble are a key part of it, particularly Tim Prottey-Jones and Beth Humphreys who show off their vocal talents in Seasons of Love.
There’s very little left to say about Kerry Ellis, who just gives herself entirely to any role she takes on. Bringing a different approach to the character of Mimi, she bewitches the audience with her voice and performance, particularly in Light My Candle.
Meanwhile Ian Stroughair proves that there are some people who can look sexy in zebra print leggings and he presents a sweet and sassy Angel that is a perfect contrast to the muscly Tom Collins (Mykal Rand).
Ruthie Stephens could turn the straightest of women as the sexy Maureen who (just moments after making a complete fool of herself on stage as she sings Over the Moon during her ‘protest’) comes on stage clad all in leather. Take Me Baby, performed with Lisa-Marie Holmes (Joanne) – who has an absolutely fabulous voice – is possibly the best song of the evening.
At times the chemistry between the three couples is less believable than some productions of Rent, but this is a concert version and the standard of acting is still incredibly high.
Despite spanning two decades, this musical still retains its drama, its emotion and – despite the undertone of HIV – its jovial feeling. There’s something about Rent that I just can’t put my finger on, but the energy and passion that the cast bring to the production makes it come alive and the standing ovation is nothing, if not well-deserved. In fact, the performance makes you want to quit your job immediately and become a bohemian artist in New York.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Hackney Empire – 30th January 2014
RENT In Concert plays at the Hackney Empire until Saturday 1 February 2014 and then our tour around the UK until 15 February. Click here for tour dates and to book tickets