15 January 2017

Review: Rent (St James' Theatre)

Rent is something that every musical theatre fan knows. All you need do is play the first few chords of Seasons of Love in a room full of theatre kids, and I guarantee every person will gasp. Which is why, as delighted as I was to be seeing the 20th anniversary production in its sold-out run at the St James' Theatre, I was somewhat concerned. This show is so iconic, and means so much to so many people, that it had to be perfect - and actually, in my opinion, it really wasn't that far off.

The casting, was pretty much spot on. The star of the show, of course, was Layton Williams as Angel. Personally, I was impressed with his ability to not only walk in 6 inch heels, but dance (exceptionally well) in them too! When I say 'dance exceptionally well', I don't mean "it was good for a man in heels" or "if I did that barefoot my teachers would be impressed" - I mean that he was potentially one of the best dancers I have ever, and will ever see. There were so many kicks and jumps that the audience were whooping and cheering mid-number, which usually drives me up the wall, but in this instance, I was joining in! (yes, imagine little me, sat front row, cheering and clapping at this amazing dancer - I was positively melting )

Alongside Layton Williams was Ryan O'Gorman as Collins, who had one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard - Collins' part is pretty beautiful anyway (those low notes, my goodness), but Ryan O'Gorman has a voice that just sounds like melted chocolate, (if that makes any sense?) not to mention the fact that his acting was desperately  heart-wrenching in the reprise of I'll Cover You. Their pairing just felt very natural and fun (when Angel wasn't too busy dying, that is), and it was clear that two of them get on well off-stage as well as on.

I'm pretty sure we actually saw Joshua Dever as Mark, and I must say, as somebody who was very attached to the idea of Anthony Rapp being the only Mark in the universe, Dever did a damn good job of convincing me otherwise - to the point where now, if I imagine Mark, I imagine him rather than Rapp! He carried the show beautifully and delivered some the funniest and  hardest-hitting lines in the show with grace, vigour and undeniable wit!

The 3 sass queens, Maureen, Joanne and Mimi, (Lucie Jones, Shanay Holmes and Philippa Stefani respectively) were all, as the name may suggest, extremely sassy, in the best way possible! Take Me or Leave Me absolutely blew me away, and both Jones' and Holmes' voices were so crystal clear that the song felt raw and edgy - a completely different atmosphere and mood to that of the film - it felt younger and fresher.

Out Tonight was one of the weirder theatrical experiences of my life, because it felt like Mimi was performing to her own audience, in her mind (a 'hairbrush in front of the mirror' scenario), oblivious to the fact that there was a real audience right in front of her. I loved the way that the set moved with her on it, (not least because I think the stage would have felt a little empty otherwise!) and having seen her as Daniella in In The Heights, I realised that I simply hadn't appreciated what a good dancer she was! By the end of the show, however, she was (in the least rude way possible), a complete mess. Whether she was really diving in head first acting-wise, or whether there was something else going on backstage, I guess we'll never know, but she clearly completely threw herself into everything she did on that stage; nothing was half-hearted or limp in the slightest, and the result was an incredible portrayal of a pretty tricky character.

Overall, this production blew me away - the entire cast were clearly very close and you could see that in the way they bounced off each other on stage - which, in my opinion, is what Rent is all about: people. This is how I always hoped and imagined Rent would be as a stage show, exceeding even my highest expectations in many areas. Not only was it a fantastic production of a fantastic musical, it was a beautiful interpretation or a beautiful piece of art, and I genuinely believe that Jonathon Larson would have been extraordinarily proud of his creation had he been here to see it. 

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