The husby introduced me to ‘Rent the Musical’ a few years back, and it quickly became one of my favourite musicals of all time. I have watched the film, a recording of the Broadway production, an amateur production, a concert of the songs and I’ve lost count at how many times that I’ve had the soundtrack on repeat. However, I’ve never seen a professional production of the stage show.
So when I found out that there was a 20th anniversary tour of the show happening, I had to get tickets. Surprisingly the show wasn’t coming to Manchester, so I got the closest city to me…Liverpool.
Rent is loosely based on the opera La Bohème, telling the story about young artists in New York struggling and surviving under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.
The first act sees the friends come together in their own sub-plots, dealing with their personal challenges. Whether this be Mark dealing with his ex, Maureen, and her new girlfriend Joanne. Benny being mugged and then watching his relationship with Angel develop. Or Roger and Mimi’s relationship grow while they both fear telling each other the truth about their HIV status.
After coming to love the characters, it’s quite sad that the second act is about breaking the relationships up, before bringing them back together. Which provides some of the most powerful and emotional scenes, that I don’t want to spoil.
The staging didn’t steer far from tradition. It kept the industrial starkness that I have come to know about Rent. It played on the one set fits all, although there was one section that stage hands/ensemble revolved during the show on a number of occasions which I felt was a little unnecessary. Although, you can’t argue that the set oozed what Rent was all about.
One of my least favourite parts of the production was Angel’s introduction to Mark and Roger, where he sang ‘Today 4 U’. This is actually, one of my favourite scenes, but it just fell below par in this production. Don’t get me wrong, the energy and enthusiasm that Layton Williams put into the scene couldn’t be faulted. It was just that before it all started the singing fell by the wayside. It was quite breathy from the start.
And although Layton didn’t make a good first impression, I actually felt he was generally superb as Angel. I actually teared at his ‘final’ scene.
Another thing that stood out for me negatively, was the ensemble. On a number of occasions I was aware that some of them came across quite wooden, and at times I caught them watching the scene and not acting it.
Now the problem that you have when you hold such a show to high regard, is that you can easily be disappointed. And at times I was here.
Lets reiterate, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy myself, because I did. It was just, that at times I became very conscious of staging. The fact that I walked out of the production thoroughly enjoying myself, but in the same respect thinking that the amateur production I saw was better, speaks volumes.
I had very high expectations for the show. Maybe those expectations were set too high. Question is, would I go and see this production again? Yes, I most likely would.