REVIEW: RENT in Concert (20th Anniversary UK Touring Production – 2013)

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.

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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:

About Gari

Northern lad; living out in the Peak District and rediscovering life after having had a brain tumour.

15 Responses

  1. I love the term “Renthead”! I saw the original production in London and found that it was a show that for some reason just didn’t speak to me. I also remember that the sound was horrendously over-amplified so that it simply hurt my ears! I wonder if I would enjoy it more 15 years on? Glad you had a good time!


  2. Richard

    Just stumbled across your review. I was also at the Manchester show and completely disagree with some of what you have said unfortunately! (in my opinion) I LOVED the addition of the amazing on stage band and believe it made the show. The ‘concert’ element to the show was a refreshing change to past productions and after seeing the Rent on Broadway, i was speechless. As for the lights, occasionally the spotlight did drift into the audience (wasn’t expecting a hitch free first show), but I was too fixated on the spectacular production & performance from the cast to give a damn! Also, the visuals on the screens were impressive and at times very emotive. As for the lack of marketing… The show was a sell out so surely more marketing would have been completely pointless? Plus rehearsal footage was shown on Granada Reports. Having the big names was effective marketing as it is. I believe after just 8 days rehearsals the cast and director did an AMAZING job, the musical director controlled the band like clockwork and the cast excelled themselves. If this production of ‘Rent in Concert’ isn’t made permanent in the West End then i will be hugely surprised. Best ‘Rent’ i have ever seen, including better than the original broadway production. I’m also hoping and praying for a cast recording & DVD. As you can guess I’m quite excited about this production. I’ve just booked for the last night. This is something special!


  3. Robert Dow

    I agree that the lighting in Manchester was not fantastic but it did not detract from a wonderful evening. I am bemused by your criticism of the musical director and the lack of marketing. The show was sold out, the audience loved it, who cares if a few critics missed it, I don’t.


  4. Stacy

    I watched Rent last night in Cardiff and thought it was amazing! But just to add to the lighting issues you reported – they stopped the show half way through Act 1 so that they could sort out ‘technical issues’ with the lighting (spotlights drifting into the audience and spotlights not appearing in the correct place) It only took a few minutes for them to sort it out and I’m pleased they did because it did start to become distracting. It didn’t spoil the concert however – I thoroughly enjoyed it – superb performances all round! Only wish I could see it again!


  5. Zee

    I’m afraid I almost completely agree and I’m not quite certain how much theatre you watch and how much you know about the show but to slag of the tech that much for a one night only show when you’re saying that cast is fantastic is a bit if a joke. Remember also the md has a whole cast on stage to conduct! The cast were unfortunately poorly cast. As you say mimi was an odd choice for Kerry and while she was vocally incredible and acted the part well she didn’t quite fit the role, and regardless of that had a struggle on her hands playing opposite; again another fantastic, although very poppy, vocalist; but quite frankly awful actor! Who’d have thought that in one song glory roger was writing this as his last song under the fear, confusion, and uncertainty of the AIDS. He was far to young in posture and expression, definitely not acceptable for a part so full of life experience as roger!! Where was the need and the want??!!! Mark unfortunately failed to make sense of the words and helped to lead to the failure of la vie boheme which all round lacked energy and this simple version was massively under rehearsed! When they started with the movements I was expecting the whole thing!!! Perhaps the les mis style concert would have been better here!! Angel, despite starting shakey, once I’m her full drag took good control of the role and brought brilliant energy. Whilst Collins whomped out of a few of the high notes in the reprise of ill cover you, the song was much better than I expected, considering I wasn’t able to understand a lot of what he said I’m the first act. You said it was the sound technicians problem, I personally feel it was more if the lack of clarity I’m the voice, it’s a hard show to make sense of and perhaps more acting technique could have gone in the songs to help! Joanne and Maureen were both very good, although the raging lesbian side was not so easy to believe. Benny’s cool confidence came across a bit too camp and was not helped by the extra riffs added in. Need I say this is NOT A POP CONCERT. that was one of the big problems for me!! ACTORS STICK TO THE SCORE!! Especially for a show like this! It was just far too obvious when some of them tried to improvise their own parts! One chorus member singing the lead in the life support song and will I lose my dignity was outstanding. Ever heard of diamonds in the eyes? There were here! Really told the story despite an unnatural presence on the stage (perhaps needs to learn how to stop rocking on his heels) and also to stick to the written part in seasons of love. The falsetto may have gotten a cheer as it surprised the audience but it turned you into a vocalist performer rather than the strong singer actor we had seen previously.

    I did enjoy the show, but it wasn’t right for an anniversary show where we should be celebrating the score.


  6. I read your review before going to see RENT yesterday (the 4:30 matinee in Leeds), so I was already tentatively awaiting something technical going horribly wrong. I was pleased to find that despite a couple of minor glitches – Nikki Davis-Jones’ microphone was a touch too loud and the lighting often did little to focus your attention on who was singing – largely, the problems seemed to have been all but ironed out…which was good, on the second-to-last day of the tour!

    It was such an emotional rollercoaster seeing a musical which means so much to me (if it passed your sniffle test, it passed my ’embarrassing and unattractive sobbing’ test!) and I thoroughly enjoyed the production. If you have chance, I have written a full review of my experience watching it on my own blog so if you wanted to take a look, I would be more than grateful! 🙂



  7. Ann

    Hi Gari,

    Apologies for the belated comment, I only wish to stand in defence of the Rent technical team. With your experience within the theatre industry I know you will appreciate that a technical team is only as good as its production team and time. Please be aware that the show had almost no tech time, all be it one technical dress, prior to the first performance. I appreciate, as a consumer, this isn’t your concern and as a final product this dosent equate to a perfection, But I would hope you bare in mind the limitations binding the technical departments before blaming them.

    Everyone on the show worked tirelessly to create a product which we like to believe was enjoyed by most and criticised by few.


  8. Penny


    Having seen this in Liverpool a while back I got hold of the DVD and watched it again tonight – so good! However my question is who was the backing singer (probably the wrong terminolgy, sorry!) in the blue checked shirt – he was so good! Is he an up and coming that I can go and see else where?

    Hope you know


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