Those that know me will be aware that RENT is one of my all time favourite musicals. Ever since my drama teacher Miss P (now Mrs S!) introduced us to it in a lesson, I was hooked. I quickly found the full theatre show online and watched it umpteen times. The one thing I always hoped to do was actually see it live, and until this weekend I hadn’t had the chance.
Firstly thank you to our friend Charlie for getting us the tickets so we could pay them back on payday. It meant a lot, they knew how much we loved the show and wanted to see it and it was great to actually have the chance. Secondly I want to give a massive well done to Archie, another friend of mine, who performed amazingly as Rodger who is one of my favourite characters anyway and does my favourite songs. Congratulations Archie on another successful run.
For those that don’t know the story of RENT, it is a rock opera based on Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’. It is centred around a group of friends living and struggling in modern day East Village New York. The two main characters are Roger and Mark, roommates. Roger is HIV positive, numb to the world and trying to write a song that will mean he will be remembered after he dies, and Mark is a film maker who is trying to capture everything on film to document the year. The themes include love, loss, HIV/AIDS, poverty and all the things that impact on life in a bohemian world.
The performance I went to see was put on by Bird Studios to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the musical. It was shown at the Old Market in Hove, East Sussex, and I went to see the matinee penultimate performance on Saturday the 3rd December.
I am a massive fan anyway, so there was a lot to live up to when I went to see the performance. I was almost nervous, as I didn’t want to be disappointed, but so excited as I finally got to see it live. Well I will say now, I was not disappointed.
I was captured from the first song. They began singing ‘Rent’ and I was grinning, I was sat forward in my seat totally captured. I was singing along in my head, trying not to word for word the show, laughing and crying at all of the right points. One thing I love from the show anyway is how well the storyline arcs, the way the emotions ebb and flow, and the actors did a fantastic job of putting this across. I was entranced, I knew when the interval was coming up simply because of how well I knew the show, but I could have sat through the whole thing without a break.
I find it difficult to say my favourite songs in RENT, but one I will definitely say is ‘Will I?’ it is so simple, very few lines, but the way it is performed is phenomenal. The raw emotion involved works so well, and I did find myself with tears in my eyes while watching. ‘Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care?’ these lines really resonate with me, in the work I do I know that I worry about it for the future. I am HIV negative but this can be true for anyone who thinks to the future, obviously the difference here is that it is an immediate thought for those who are in that situation and dying, as is the case in RENT. In this performance of the musical I was blown away by how they did this. The vocals were brilliant and just the way it was done, yeah. It was perfect. Really took me in and brought tears to my eyes.
‘Another Day’ is another favourite of mine, and one I got to see my friend perform perfectly. The raw emotion, it was entirely believable. The thing with musicals is a lot of people don’t think they will get pulled in or just don’t like them because of the constant singing, but I find it just adds to the emotions coming across.
The staging was really good too, they did the standard of having the orchestra on stage which works really well, RENT was one of the first shows to do this and it looks great with the rough look. The main bits of staging were scaffolding, and tables and chairs, all of which were used for different things. The scaffolding was danced around (the pole dancing was phenomenonal!) and the tables and chairs were danced on, and used for different things like beds too.
Lighting was great as well, especially the way they used the follow spot during the songs. Unfortunately the sound was not as good, but only on the technical side! Sadly the microphones cut out a fair few times but were quickly back up again on each instance.
Honestly the only other downside was the young stage school kids next to us in the seats who kept talking and jumping around, even during the sad parts. I know that it is good for kids to see theatre and I am not going to say that it wasn’t appropriate for children – I think that is entirely up to the parents – I am just a bit frustrated that we picked seats right next to them, sadly the seats moved with every movement they made!
Overall I think it is pretty clear that I adored the show. It really did live up to all expectations. At the end Mykal Rand, the actor who played Tom Collins in this performance and the original London cast, gave a little background on RENT and spoke about the creator, Jonathan Larson. Unfortunately Jonathan never saw the play. He sadly died suddenly the night prior to the first ever showing and as a result the initial performance was done simply to friends and family, in memorial.
Mykal spoke of a plaque that was made by Jonathan’s uncle for every performance of RENT around the world. He explained that this plaque was something that the cast and crew all touched every day to bring a little bit of Jonathan onto the stage with them. I thought that was a lovely idea, and they asked all of us in the audience to pass on our own positive energy to it. This was great and I felt honoured to be able to do that.
Another thing that came up at the end was the fact that on Thursday the 1st December was World Aids Day. This was started in 1988 to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to encourage people to support those living with the condition, and to remember those who have died. I don’t feel educated enough on the topic to discuss it here, but there are a few links I’d recommend reading.
I wish I could go and watch the show again now, but as I said when leaving the theatre, at least I can cross seeing RENT live off my bucket list! Despite my little niggles, none of it was the fault of the cast or crew and so the rating on this one is easy for me. 5/5 stars. Easily.