05/05/13 - 'RENT in Concert' at City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds

After months of planning, a massive stress on my part to book a group of ten decent seats together and then pay for them, and the organisation of train times...the day finally arrived.  After years of waiting - listening to the soundtrack until my family despised all the songs, watching the film and sobbing every time - I finally had the pleasure of settling myself in the stalls (seat Q4 to be exact) of the City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds to witness the spectacle which was the twentieth anniversary concert tour of one of my favourite musicals of all time: 'RENT'.  And I was not disappointed in the least.

From the first announcement of this tour, the term 'concert' has been raising questions as to the nature of the production.  The rock opera style of Jonathan Larson's stage show means that it's entirely sung anyway, so what would be adapted or taken out to fit this format?  Fortunately, not much.  The production was fully costumed and the set tends to be minimal anyway.  There were only a few minor changes made to the actual content of the show and these weren't wildly noticeable anyway.  

The cast were absolutely incredible, carrying the show with such great energy and emotion that the audience couldn't help but be swept along by it.  West End powerhouse Kerry Ellis was the most notable piece of casting and initially I assumed she would be playing the role of Maureen.  I can't say I was entirely blown away by her performance as Mimi, but it was a new take on the character which I did enjoy and with Kerry's voice and acting chops, she was never going to deliver anything less than a solid performance.  Rory Taylor (a runner up in ITV's 'Superstar' talent search, and someone I have incidentally seen in a Costa at home as he is a local lad - my little claim to fame) gave an incredible performance, showcasing the rockstar vocals we all knew he had and the acting ability I had hoped was lurking underneath.  
The show was a little bit stolen by Tim Prottey Jones who also graced our screens on 'Superstar' and led the beautiful vocal piece 'Will I' before absolutely smashing the male solo in 'Seasons of Love'.  Ian Stroughair as Angel was nothing short of fabulous; I found my eyes drawn to him in pretty much every scene and his relationship with Leon Lopez's Collins was totally on the money.  That said, there is not a single member of that cast who was not utterly brilliant - they should all be overwhelmingly proud of themselves.

If you can't see the embedded video below, check it out here - it's definitely worth a watch!

While I will admit there were a few little technical problems with the lighting and sound, they were not enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the show.  RENT is a musical which has spoken straight to the hearts of so many people in so many ways since it opened on Broadway in 1996 (the '20th anniversary' title could be considered something of a misnomer but that can be easily overlooked), and there was certainly a lot of emotion bouncing around inside the theatre.  Since I first watched the film, I have never been able to listen to the reprise of 'I'll Cover You' without shedding a little tear and this was no different.  However, the sheer amount that I cried was a testimony to the fantastically talented cast - the performance was utterly heart-breaking.

I proudly led the standing ovation at the end and we were rewarded by another beautiful rendition of 'Seasons of Love'...which emotionally broke me.  It's one of the first songs we ever did in my Performing Arts Society and as we all sang along, entirely nailing our harmonies, I realised that this would be the last time I would sing it with some of my favourite people.  "Let's celebrate, remember a year in the life of friends" could not be a more apt lyric.  I'll stop being maudlin now, I promise.

Overall, I was entirely blow away by the performances despite a couple of technical hitches.  If you're a RENThead, I really hope you caught this production!  The last stop on their whirlwind tour of one night engagements all over the UK is tonight in Southend and if you ask me, it's a shame that it was such a short run.

Were you lucky enough to see RENT in Concert?  Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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