Don't miss this award-winning (a Pulitzer no less) high-kicking, all-singing, all-dancing rock musical when it comes to the Assembly Hall Theatre
Happy birthday to Rent! Twenty years old but still as fresh and perky as all the characters’ derrieres in this new anniversary production of Jonathan Larson’s West End theatre sensation. A rock musical, based on Puccini’s La Bohème, the show is in the midst of a highly successful tour and soon coming to the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells (Tue 23 May to Sat 27 May).
The show caused quite a stir back in the 1990s when it first hit the stage in New York, not least because Larson died suddenly of an aneurysm on the night it previewed, which wraps the show in the kind of emotional intensity that is played out on stage. For while you get your full quota of song and dance, humour and energy, there’s a tragic epicenter that doesn’t half tug at the heart strings. It went on to play Broadway for 12 years picking up awards on its way – Tonys, Obies, even a Pulitzer – and this new run is no less compelling. Muddy Glos, Sarah, caught the show when it hit her neck of the woods. Read her review before you book your tickets:
The story is set in New York’s East Village, the birthplace of punk and post-modern American art in the late 1980s, and the counterculture atmosphere of the edgy neighbourhood of Alphabet City is brilliantly conjured by the scaffolding-style set with real American street lights and phone box – I half expected Jean-Michel Basquiat to walk on stage in high-waisted jeans and DMs and start spray-painting the joint. The plot revolves around a group of impoverished artists scratching a living, struggling to pay the rent and being rent apart by HIV and AIDS. (Yeah, clever title, eh?) I was a bit apprehensive of the HIV theme as I was a tender age at the height of the AIDS crisis – I can still feel the fear instilled by those tombstone television ads – so it’s not a subject matter I run towards. But it’s brilliantly explored in the show and is very moving especially in the second act when (spoiler alert) there is a death.
Don’t think you’re going to leave the show feeling ravaged though, because there’s a lot of uplifting song and dance going on, not least by the cross-dressing Angel, played brilliantly by Layton Williams, whom you may know as the camp pupil Stephen in Jack Whitehall’s class in Bad Education. In the first act he steals the show with his performance of Today 4 U in full drag. If you’re looking for a bare torso moment, this is it, but you’re probably going to be more distracted by his legs, which are to die for – so perfectly formed, so smooth, so unfair! The acting and singing is exceptional, not least by the two main characters, flatmates Mark, an aspiring documentary film maker played by Billy Cullum, and Roger, a grief-stricken musician played by Ross Hunter, who reminded me of this guy I used to fancy in 1995, who reminded me of Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall. Fit basically.
There’s a real range of styles in all the cast’s voices and every one of them can belt out a tune. In fact, the character of Maureen, an HIV-positive, bisexual performance artist, was played by Lucie Jones’s (our Eurovision entrant this year!) understudy, Christina Modestou, who was really rocking a star-of-the-show voice, as was Kevin Yates who stood in for Ryan O’Gorman as Tom Collins, a gay anarchist professor who falls in love with Angel.
Rent is on at the Assembly Hall Theatre Tue 23 May – Sat 27 May. Tickets