Expectant I was to see this show for the first time and to learn of its theme and as Jon Wiederhorn for ROLLING STONE once described RENT to be about: “young … artists struggling to celebrate life in the shadow of drugs, poverty and AIDS,” is a good, concise summary of a story that, in itself, is a bit pithy.
I was keen too, to experience the music style, to hear the lyrics and to witness a full stage performance. So, firstly, there’s a live band playing which is a real plus. The set is cleverly designed; a huge construction; and colourful! A few minutes in and I note there’s no speech. Introductions and the scene setting happens in songs. The plot unfolds in songs. There are fill-ins that are not really songs just fast paced sing speak in American accents with characteristic resonance. Of course, this is a rock musical, yes, and when the songs break, they really do. Trouble is, lyrics are delivered at such a fast rate, so a wall of heavy sound met my ears on the back row and I found myself a little in and out with the story lines. I enjoyed the individual performances and the duets more than those numbers involving a fuller, or full cast participation. There are some incredible performances, though the stage is a preposterous place at times.
Somewhat reflectively, my research after the event revealed the fact that RENT’S writer and composer, Jonathan Larson had, in fact, passed away unexpectedly in 1996. Larson’s parents, Allan and Nanette, said this of their creative son: ‘he believed he could help make musical theatre more relevant for a new generation’… Well, I don’t recall ever witnessing a Coventry audience of all ages being quite so receptive and demonstrative in their OHH! AHH! reactions to a main stage show as they were last night. People were clearly loving it. So the receiving of such public adoration speaks volumes in regard to RENT always having relevance and some bearing with many people.
For me, in a general sense I have to say this show is ‘not my bag’, not one bit. Personal taste aside and wearing my critiquing hat however, I’d be the first in the queue to say that this show is pretty damn good!
Theatre critic, Debra Hall attended RENT at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on Wed 10 May 2017 7.45pm