Christmas bells are riiiiinging…
Last night (Thursday 25th April 2013), I excitedly took my seat for RENT in Concert, playing at the Manchester Opera House on the opening night of its short UK tour.
Fellow musical theatre geeks will probably question the heralding of the ’20th anniversary’ banner too – and in my opinion, it’s a little bit of a cop-out, as the show didn’t hit Broadway audiences properly until 1996, and the West End until 1997. However, the first staged reading at the New York Theatre Workshop was in March 1993, hence the anniversary. That said, any excuse for a production of RENT is viable in my opinion, and so I’m not grumbling TOO loudly in this instance.
From my initial post, and subsequent conversations, it is somewhat evident that there has been something of a lack of an effective marketing drive for this one night only show, despite it having a major West End name in Kerry Ellis on the bill. I don’t think that anybody who was sat there at curtain up knew exactly what to expect, given the ‘in Concert’ aspect of the show title (personally, I was thinking along the lines of the Les Misérables 10th Anniversary concert).
It was, therefore, with great delight (and much audience screaming) when the curtain rose and it became immediately apparent that we were in for a decently staged version of the show. Having seen the show on Broadway, I wouldn’t say that the production storyboards were much different to that, short of the required down-scalings.
First off, as a massive RENThead, I shall start with the fantastic – the cast!
For shows like this, I really don’t like to single anybody out as excelling, especially when it is so important to the integrity of the ‘brand’/ so many people in the audience that the character is truly ‘lived’, loved and believable. I think that EVERYONE on stage last night did an amazing job and all should be very proud of what they’re doing! From Ian Stroughair’s fantastic and fresh portrayal of Angel, right the way through to West End leading lady Nikki Davis-Jones’ feisty and foxy Maureen, new-comer Rory Taylor’s incredible turn as Roger, and Leon Lopez making a welcome return back to the role of Collins, which he absolutely excels in. I honestly couldn’t say a bad word about anyone whatsoever.
I guess many people may be reading this review on the basis of Kerry Ellis being in the show. I have to admit that I am not a hardcore Kerry fan. I do think that her voice is amazing, who could argue with that, but on a personal level, and seeing as much theatre as I do, it is very important to me that I am able to identify on a level with an actor for them to become a firm favourite, and for me something just doesn’t click here – obviously this is not any kind of slur on anyone, just an objective case of personal preference!!
Having avoided too much pre-show hype, I was very surprised to see Kerry in the role of Mimi – I had totally thought that she would appear in the role of Maureen. It was an interesting casting choice, and opened up a completely new dimension to my favourite character from my favourite musical, that I realised that I had never fully considered. Kudos.
(Please note that this is an official video (credit – Darren Bell) – it’s not a case of naughty audience behaviour! Also, the vocal that makes you go ‘wow’ isn’t Kerry Ellis, but rather Beth Humphries (Ensemble/Cover Joanne) – who absolutely had the stand-out vocal performance of the night!!!)
On to the less good – the production values were a little shaky from the front stalls.
We had loose spot lights drifting off in to the audience at times, on one occasion for an extended period. Often, there was very noticeable shadowing on the faces of the actors on stage and if they didn’t hit their mark precisely, you could only see half of their face, and so you had to battle the constant movement between light and dark (plus the fact that fixed lighting doesn’t give the actor full control of the character – as nothing can be ‘felt’ and added in to the performance) – all of which at times became overwhelmingly distracting. There were a lot of times when the lighting was whirling around for long periods of time up in the fly, when turned off, for no apparent reason, again, very distracting if you’re sat in the front few rows.
The sound was, unfortunately, no better, and the mix on the audio was often bass heavy, and at times the feed from the musicians completely drowned out the actors/singing. There were several missed lyrics owing to microphones not projecting. Most unforgivable, however, was the bass player (sorry!), who constantly kept changing the tempo from written and was running away with himself, meaning that the band were often going faster than the performers, which resulted in a few songs being a bit of a mess.
Back to the positives – the overall stage management was great, and I thought that the set design really worked with the production – for a ‘one night only’ set, I thought they did really well on this aspect.
Whilst it may sound like I had an awful night, in fact, the absolute opposite was true!!
RENT is one of those shows that I love so much and I, for one, was absolutely thrilled to see it on stage again (the last time it was professionally performed in the UK was as RENT Remixed – a project I enjoyed, but everyone else panned!).
I totally led the standing ovation and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Despite the production issues that I have mentioned, I wouldn’t hesitate for a single second in recommending this show to people – if you’re a fan of RENT (or even if you’re new to it), the current touring production will do you right, for sure!!
Oh, and in case you’re wondering – this production of RENT absolutely passed my sniffle test (if I embarrass myself, then it gets recommended, ha!) – and I’d love to hear what you, dear reader, made of it, if you’ve been fortunate enough to catch it.
… and it’s beginning to snow!
RENT is currently performing one night engagements across the UK. For further information, please see the official tour website.
Tweets from the night:
Have Spotify? Check out the Original Broadway Cast recording here: