Rent, St James Theatre

Rent has officially taken the top spot: best performance of a musical I have ever seen.

To put that into context, I averaged more than one a month in 2016 alone - I have seen an awful lot of shows in my 24 years!

The current touring production of Rent, which I saw during its London run at the St James Theatre, is truly outstanding.

I was slightly apprehensive before the show simply because I love the musical so, so much and have waited so many years to see it live. I was worried my expectations might be a little TOO high.

There was nothing at all to worry about.

We were on the front row, which for a show of this intensity was really quite incredible. We were almost under the feet of the actors, and right up close in their emotional moments. It takes a particular kind of skill, I think, to act in such an intimate setting. When your audience is inches away from you, you can't let things slip for a second.

It was incredible especially in the bigger group numbers to be watching the cast's movements be full of such freedom, while being constantly aware of the fact the audience were up so close, and therefore being careful not to kick anyone!

We were lucky enough to be right next to the hospital chairs in the emotional scenes of Act Two, meaning it felt almost like the characters were singing directly into our eyes.

I was also really impressed by the set, packed with so much detail and covering multiple levels. The ladders and various heights were used to brilliant effect - Out Tonight was a fantastic example of this - and I love it when the musicians are visible and a part of the performance.

The lighting worked really well to enhance the mood, every detail pulling together to create a slick final result.

I'm impressed I have waited this long to discuss the cast, because they were quite honestly phenomenal. I can hands down say they were my favourite overall cast, as an ensemble, in anything I've seen. It's such an ensemble show that really every character has to be spot on, or the whole performance is let down.

If I was pushed to choose my top four, it would (in this order) be Angel, Mimi, Tom and Roger. If I talk about everyone in depth I could go on forever, so I will focus on those and then mention the others!

Angel was performed by Layton Williams, who made me believe nobody could ever embody the role better than him. Angel is such a pivotal character, because there has to be that sassy, fun-loving side, but the audience has to completely fall in love with Angel and believe everyone else has, too. Without that, none of the emotion of Act Two has a leg to stand on. Williams handled the role with incredible confidence and maturity, and just took my breath away time and time again. 

Philippa Stefani, for me, was the perfect Mimi. It's an incredibly emotionally complex role, and another very physical one. Not only does she have numbers like Out Tonight, where she's hanging from the railings and embodying her sexual side, but she also has songs like Without You, bringing the audience to tears. Another physically challenging aspect of the role is the fact she's playing a drug addict who over the course of the show is getting more and more unwell. Stefani was mesmerising in her starring moments, but where she really pushed it over the edge into brilliance was in those 'in between' moments - the shaking, the sniffing, the frantic, darting eyes of someone who is struggling.

Roger is a key role with some of the very best songs in the show, and Ross Hunter's voice more than met the requirements. He combines that more raw, rocky edge with an incredibly pure higher range, and Your Eyes was a standout moment of the show. His chemistry with Stefani was very well played, and he was an ideal Roger. Tom Collins hasn't historically been one of my favourite characters, but Ryan O'Gorman's voice completely changed that for me. His gravelly, deep tone was quite honestly one of my favourite voices I've heard in a long time. He broke my heart in the reprise of I'll Cover You, and his relationship with Angel was so touching and believable that it really escalated the emotional later scenes.

I've chosen four characters, there, but I'm going to give quick mentions to others as the simple fact is the whole cast blew me away. Billy Cullum skillfully took on Mark's role as narrator - one which  always think is quite difficult as he's more of a commentator than a participant in many scenes, Javar La'Trail Parker offered a side to Benjamin I hadn't really appreciated before, and made me understand his side of the story, too.

Maureen (Lucie Jones) and Joanne (Shanay Holmes) made sure Take Me Or Leave Me was the showstopper it deserves to be, and I found their rocky relationship utterly believable. Additionally, the cast playing multiple smaller roles never let the acting slip, and you really could single out any one of them at a single moment and get the sense their character has a fully developed story.

I'm sure you can now see I could go on and on, but I will leave you with this:

The show broke my heart in the most wonderful, powerful fashion, and reminded me why I love music.

I didn't think I would get quite so emotional, knowing the story so well, but I sobbed my heart out! My dad definitely had a cry, too.

I feel emotional even thinking back over it to write this review, and that goes to show just what an impact it had. They're touring now, so please try and get tickets. You won't regret it for a second.


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