Wing-It Theatre have come crashing into the Albany Theatre, Coventry this summer and it is quite clear that you can either ‘take them or leave them’ in this sparse, real and utterly stunning production of Jonathan Larson’s genius musical: Rent.
The musical opens with Josh Hale who excels as budding filmmaker Mark Cohen while he narrates the story of a group of young New York artists living a year under the shadow of the 1980s American Aids Epidemic. This dark subject expresses the contrast in beautiful art and the fallout of such a fatal disease and Hannah Farquharson's direction does not avoid this content. Farquharson direction places the chorus at the heart of the production as she successfully realises tale of the other artists in the city, not just the protagonists. The once silent chorus of characters - Junkie’s, Cat Scratch Dancers and Homeless - forms the core of this production producing some original routines and vocals.
Farquharson’s original direction is commendable, complemented by Connor Clifford’s symbolic choreography and Liam Walker’s soothing musical direction. The vocals produced by this chorus blend together in an almost united solidarity among the artists and brought a whole new life to a much renowned soundtrack of musical numbers.
Technically the show was also well supported. Despite a few opening night glitches this did not deter from the narrative or action of the performers who, very professionally, improvised out of these situations. A few adjustments of levels between performers and band were more noticeable and higher levels would have just strengthened the already phenomenal performances.
The Albany Theatre is perfect for this show. With a wide stage, it really helped to separate the story into isolated areas and strengthen the narrative. The building site/scaffolding set upstage of the deck reflected the poverty and sparse nature of the American aids epidemic, conjuring up some beautiful imagery throughout. Rory Beaton’s lighting design further reflects the desperate nature of the characters, powerfully reflecting the aim of this adaptation: “this is us, take us or leave us”. One moment that cannot go amiss was the company's rendition of Finale B – as lighting, sound and cast came together with strong vocals; it left a most powerful impression.
All of the young cast performances further enhanced the quality of this production, with some particular standouts from the leads. Nathan Routledge brought an emotional performance as Collins and a stunning take on I’ll Cover You (reprise). His on stage partner, Josh Smith, brought a much needed comic relief to the stage as Angel and left the audience entertained with his contributions to Today for You, I'll Cover You and Santa Fe. Ellie Moloney's feisty Mimi erupted on the stage with a bold presentation of Out Tonight, captivating the audience from the off. Later she contrasted this beautifully with her tear-jerking rendition of Without You during Angel’s death. Her romance with Ben Murphy's Roger – a struggling musician –was electric and sparked powerful emotions parallel to Joanne and Maureen (Leah Vassell and Charlotte Blakeman). These two actress’ shone in Take Me or Leave Me with a rocky performance and strong onstage chemistry, with Blakeman’s comical talents shining in her solo monologue Over the Moon.
A phenomenal take on a stunning musical, you would be at a real loss to miss Rent this week, so listen to the cow and jump over the moon to the Albany Theatre, Coventry!
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