It is the classic musical of modern times, a tour de force that has a back story just as tragic as the one that unfolds on stage, and, last night, Rent, the updated version of La Boheme, opened at the Old Rep Theatre Birmingham with a brilliant ensemble performance.
Rent is the story of a group of artistic bohemians living in East Village, New York during the early 1990s. The talented bunch include a dancer (Mimi), a film-maker (Mark), a guitarist and lead singer (Roger), a transsexual woman (Angel) and a teacher turned anarchist (Tom Collins). They live an impoverished existence and, in the case of Mimi, Collins and Roger, their lives are blighted by AIDS and drug abuse. Their hand to mouth existence is further thrown into jeopardy by they threat that they could be evicted from their home by their former friend and flatmate Benny, who has married into money and now owns the apartment building they live in. We follow the friends from Christmas to Christmas as they fight to just survive in a New York that is unforgiving and unaccepting of the ‘have-nots’ in society.
The whole cast is just brilliant, and it is hard to single out performances, but Jessica Singer as Mimi is captivating in her portrayal of the promiscuous but vulnerable dancer. Her beautiful voice brings tears to the eye, especially when she sings the lament ‘Without You’. Tom Tilley and Rhys Owen make a wonderful couple as Angel and Collins, their romance is touching and poignant, and they play it to perfection, with Rhys Owen showing very raw and powerful grief during the performance of ‘I’ll Cover You’.
Joe Ashman is a good lead as Mark, holding the production together with his asides, almost acting as a narrator, worried that he will watch all his friends die, whilst Timothy Gough does the mean and moody fading rock star perfectly, capable of stubbornness and tenderness in equal measures.
The stark industrial set is a perfect, sparse backdrop to a musical that talks about ‘What you own’ as an indication of how we are perceived in modern times, whilst the classic score is full of songs that remain in the mind long after the curtain comes down.
Rent is a modern classic, you shouldn’t miss it.
Rent is at The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham until 30th July, For times and ticket information, click here.