Scott McMullon goes to see classic the classic broadway show Rent which makes a triumphant spectacle at London’s own Greenwich Theatre.
Once in a while a show comes along and is so good that it leaves a lasting mark on the public consciousness. So it was that when Rent first made its appearance on the stage the theatre going public became hooked on the rock reinterpretation of Puccini’s opera La Boheme. Focusing on the lives of a group of bohemians in New York’s own Alphabet City, Rent told a story of life, love and friendship in the face of disease and death, all to an unforgettable soundtrack that had the audience laughing, crying and exultant in equal measures. So when we heard that the show was coming to our own Greenwich Theatre for a limited run, we could not help but get a little bit excited.
From the second the lights went down we were immediately launched into Christmas Eve in New York with Mark and Roger, a couple of starving artists trying to make ends meet and slowly introduced to a loveable cast of misfits. The cast here were absolutely fantastic and within minutes we found ourselves relating to the characters and wanting to know more about them. This is no mean feat considering that these are such well known and beloved characters and we were happy to see the cast jump into their shoes and revel in them. Outside the main cast, the ensemble also did a brilliant job in their supporting roles and in some cases even managed to surpass the main players. It really was a treat to see so much talent on stage, from performers who clearly had a terrific amount of passion for the characters they were portraying.
But what about the music I hear you cry? Well thats another great piece of news as the music and singing on offer is absolutely amazing, with hardly any bad notes to speak of. The old songs that we fell in love with are all here and performed with such gusto that you will have to restrain yourself from singing along. We were treated to amazing renditions of classics such as Seasons of Love and Take Me or Leave Me which had the audience on their feet and the theatre filled with thundering applause. Special praise needs to be reserved for Gary Wood who played Angel, for having the audience in the palm of his hands from his first opening number, and not letting them go until the bitter end. More praise must also be leveed out to Maeve Byrne, an ensemble cast member whose solo in ‘Seasons of Love’ made a terrific lasting impression , who is bound to have a fantastic future laid out for her.
Other than these the show had a terrific number of stand out moments which kept us enthralled beyond belief. One scene in particular which introduced Maureen the performance ‘artiste’, was so hilarious that we found ourselves in tears, and judging from the hoots and hollering from the audience we were not alone. Zoe Birkett who plays the role was a terrific casting choice and she has perfectly precise comic timing, and a deadpan countenance that makes her performance all the more hilarious. Angel’s own opening number Today for You, Tomorrow for Me was also an early indication that the show was going to be something special, and it proved us right. Finally there was that finale, and I think it was safe to say there was not a dry eye in the house.
Sadly this is not a flawless show, even though it does manage to come close. It commits a cardinal sin of having a band and cast that are both almost competing to be heard. Both are brilliant, but there are times where the music itself is so overpowering that we found ourselves watching a singers lips move, but were left with no clue as to what he was meant to be singing. This happened a lot, particularly in the first act, and was a rather jarring experience which made it very difficult to relax and follow the narrative. It simply made us wonder if perhaps a little more time in polishing the piece, and auditioning the cast and crew might have been necessary.
This one minor complaint aside, Rent at the Greenwich Theatre was a spectacular show and will be a real treat for fans and newcomers to this phenomenal story. The cast were almost insanely good and when we left we did so in rapture, pleased to see such a faithful and wonderful interpretation of the classic show.
Rent will be playing at the Greenwich Theatre until Sunday 16 September.