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A CurtainUp London Review
Rent the musical had a decent run in London in 1998/1999 but it has returned in 2007 in a remixed version to a new audience who love the musical through watching the movie on dvd. The night I saw it a man in the audience told me his three year old knew all the words to the songs. It is this fan base, not the three year oldís generation but his parents, which will determine Rentís success in the West End in 2007.
The director William Baker was Kylie Minogueís Creative Director for thirteen years and that is why she was persuaded to provide the voice mail messages used in the show (even the male messages being a computerised alteration of her female voice) and it was her presence at the first night that attracted the publicity. William Bakerís credentials are not theatre but amazing touring gigs for singers and bands.
What I think you get is a well sung musical with some good songs but like a pop concert since Rent seems to lack a cohesive and meaningful storyline. This will not matter for those who know and have been moved by the story on film but it does matter for me as a newcomer to Rent. I picked up no desperation or hardship or even sense of community in this story of AIDS, addiction and low cost housing. It is true of course, as the director says in the programme, that AIDS is not the death sentence it once was with the development of new anti-viral drugs. The choreography seems unoriginal but energetic.
The British cast have wisely decided to stay away from the American accents. Tom Collins (Leon Lopez) and Angel (Jay Webb) donít look like a couple but maybe the original couple were incongruous. I was greatly looking forward to seeing Denise Van Outen as Maureen but we have to wait until just before the interval for her first entrance. After the interval there was an embarrassing warm up routine, selecting some from the front row and using the "F" word a lot and putting her crotch in their face Ė why is it meant to be funnier when celebrities do this? Again for those who knew the movie, this was something they were expecting, as a recreation of the crowd pleasing demonstration against the owners of the building, but for the rest of us it was vulgar, tedious and a time wasting filler.
I just couldnít understand what "Jump Over the Moon" was all about. What was the lyricist on when he wrote the following? — "The only way out is up/ Elsie whispered to me/, "A leap of faith"/Still thirsty... parched, have some milk/And I lowered myself beneath her and held my mouth to her swollen udder/And sucked the sweetest milk I have ever tasted (slurp)/"CLIMB ONBOARD!" she said."
Jay Webb as Angel the drag queen works very hard as a dancer in his opening number but his death bed scene in the hospital with some sado- achoistic practitioners to lead him up the staircase to heaven was plainly nonsensical and in poor taste. And as if that wasnít enough, we watched as they sung while an empty hospital bed was raised up to the flies. Siobhan Donaghy as Mimi sings prettily and looks unhappy for most of the show as she is meant to be suffering with addiction. Denise Van Outen struts her stuff and Francesca Jackson as Joanne joins her in a Lesbian love duet. I had trouble deciding which song was being sung. The lyrics were very clear but didnít seem to contain a song title from the list.
The cast work very hard and sing well and the music is ok but for me the heart was lacking. There are some very good looking men in the cast who are so muscular itís hard to believe that they are anything except in the peak of health.
The set is a white apartment block, like then men in too good condition and rather too pristine to be realistic, but the lighting effects were interesting. I found the electronic news ticker tape list of those that had died from AIDS moving and this board switched to the theme song "525, 600 minutes" in an electronic countdown of a year in a life.
I am unable to say how this Remix version differs from the original stage show because I didnít see it in 1998 but maybe readers will write in to tell me what the material differences are.
For a review of Rent on Broadway go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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