REVIEW: RENT (Curve Leicester) ★★★★★

Rent Curve Leicester

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, five hundred twenty-five thousand journeys to plan, five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

Rent is by far, one of my all-time favourite musicals. It is for that reason that I didn’t hold high hopes for the brand new UK tour.

Not because I didn’t think the cast is incredible or because I didn’t trust Curve Leicester to pull another incredible production out of the bag – I just never thought it could live up to whatever it was that I wanted it to be.

To put it shortly, I was wrong and it did so much more than that. It’s actually quite hard to write this review comprehensibly without fawning and screaming “PLEASE JUST TRUST ME AND GO AND SEE IT”.

Rent is the heart-breaking story of love, friendship and the AIDS epidemic. Penned by Jonathan Larson who tragically died the night before the first ever scheduled performance, this show will tug at the heartstrings of even the hardiest audience member.

At the start of the show, we meet a group of friends in New York who are struggling. Not only struggling to meet their rent but struggling to survive in the bleak surroundings of a chaotic, unforgiving and lonely city.

It did take about ten minutes for the show to find its feet and I found the first couple of songs lay a bit flat. Sound balancing issues meant that the incredible band drowned some vocals and the actors seemed just a little bit swamped at times during the opening numbers.

However, it did not take long at all for the pace to pick up and you could physically feel the audience being carried away by the story and instantly forgiving the minor technical issues which are sure to be ironed out quickly at the start of this nationwide tour.

The set also grew on me. At first I felt that such a busy, tumultuous set took attention away from the cast who seemed dwarfed by giant platforms and a ‘scaffolding’ styled set. However, I soon came to realise that the set is absolutely perfect and truly complements both the setting (of a busy, tumultuous city dwarfing its residents) and the production.

The cast, quite simply, blew me away. Billy Cullum as Mark Cohen was fantastic, loveable and funny – just as Mark Cohen should be. He suited his role completely.

Ross Hunter as Roger Davis was brilliant. I totally believed his heart-breaking angst at coming to terms with having AIDS, and the anger, bitterness and betrayal he feels at his situation.

Philippa Stefani – wow. Her portrayal of Mimi is by far the best I’ve ever seen. Her vocals were just immense, too. It took me a little while to believe her chemistry with Roger, but I was totally 100% convinced by the end.

The audience audibly loved the stunning character of Angel, played by Layton Williams. By the end of the show, I personally couldn’t actually see anything due to tears clouding my vision so much. Layton is a fantastic actor, singer, performer – everything. His pirouettes in six-inch heels are alone a reason to see the show.

The relationship between Angel and Tom Collins, played by Ryan O’Gorman, was just beautiful. Several moments took my breath away and their chemistry was palpable and just incredible. I challenge anyone not to shed a tear during the reprise of ‘I’ll Cover You’.

Shanay Holmes shared quite a different portrayal of Joanne to any I’ve seen before, but her vocals were also undeniably fantastic. I really liked that she put a subtle twist on her character and didn’t just simply copy previous performances.

For me though, it was all about Lucie Jones. Lucie treads the boards at Curve once again, fresh from her recent performance of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde – a character that couldn’t be more different to that of Maureen. There was not one single weak link in this cast, but Lucie Jones was the strongest link of them all.

It takes a great actor to keep your eye on them at all times, even when they’re not at the forefront of the action. Lucie’s stage presence is tangible and her version of ‘Over The Moon’ was genius.

The iconic Idina Menzel was chosen by Jonathan Larson to originate the role of Maureen. No one can say that Idina didn’t do an incredible job, but in my opinion Lucie blew Idina out of the water and I bet Jonathan would be incredibly proud of her interpretation of this amazing character. She was downright hilarious throughout with absolutely incredible vocals to match.

I’ve never seen a standing ovation like the one at the end of this amazing performance. The whole audience sprang to their feet with absolutely no encouragement before the last note was even over, and I was certainly not the only member of the audience with mascara running down my cheeks.

Directed by Bruce Guthrie and choreographed by Lee Proud, there is not one single thing I can think to criticise this show about.

Quite simply – just go and see it. You won’t regret it.

Reviewed by Rosie Bambury
Photo: Matt Crockett

Rent runs at Curve Leicester until 31 March 2017 before embarking on a nationwide tour.