Jonathon Larson’s musical RENT is twenty-years old but this cast currently touring the UK make it feel more fresh, and more relevant than ever before.
Set in the East Village in New York, we hear the stories of a group of young people struggling with drugs, homelessness and HIV. Based on the opera La Bohème, Larson has crafted a musical that is punchy, powerful and poignant.
The cast perform this production with complete integrity, their dedication to their roles is entirely moving, as the audience get to really feel the pain and emotion they are portraying. We witness love, heartbreak, deception and death, which intertwined with a strong rock-influenced score to make a musical that will take you on a journey of emotions.
Opening the show we are introduced to roommates Mark (Billy Cullum) and Roger (Ross Hunter) who provide a strong narrative throughout the story. Through the tragic and painful moments, the group manage to find ways to lift their spirits and give them hope. Larson’s score balances the light and shade of the production superbly, and this is captured excellently by the cast. Their rendition of ‘La Vie Boheme” boasts tremendous energy, which is lifted by Lee Proud’s dynamically organic choreography.
Christina Modestou brings a lot of passion to the production as Maureen, an outrageous performance artist that cares deeply for the community. Her performance in the iconic Over The Moon is hugely expressive, sparks fly off her as she performs electrically. Struggling to keep the peace with her Ivy- League graduate girlfriend Joanne, who has her head very tightly screwed on, they perform Take Me Or Leave Me with stellar vocals and fiery emotion.
The relationship between Tom Collins (Ryan O’Gorman) and drag queen Angel (Layton Williams) really pulls on your heart strings. Layton Williams is flawless as Angel, as he has the sass and confidence as he completely commands the stage in Today 4 U with his jaw-dropping high-kicks. But he also manages to display the sensitive side of the character underneath all the high-heels and make up. Ryan O’Gorman is Tom similarly does this, and his tenderness towards Angel is beautiful to watch, not to mention there wasn’t a dry eye in the house during his reprise of I’ll Cover You.
The cast are remarkably strong, but Philippa Stefani stole the show for me, as she entirely invests in the role of Mimi, a young girl struggling with the disease and relying on drugs to get her by. Philippa’s commitment to the role is astounding, as she strips herself bare, leaving all her emotions on the stage. Her performance is gritty, raw and entirely consuming. After seeing Philippa play the confident and sassy Latino Daniela in In The Heights, it’s clear she is an incredibly versatile actor that will continue to shine in the theatre industry.
It’s both vocally and physically an outstanding production that depicts a real authentic emotion and sense of community within a group of people that are doing what it takes to get by. RENT is an theatrical experience that will both warm and break your heart as it’s musical theatre is inevitable to make you think and feel.
On at the Belgrade Theatre until Saturday the 13th of may, tickets can be found here.