Slava’s snowshow is completely original and unlike anything you might have seen before, although it may be triggering for those with a serious clown aversion (thanks to Stephen King and his fondness for drain-based terror!).
Polunin’s production straddles the traditional theatre show, mime, the avant garde, the clowning niche and pure spectacle. The resulting concoction is one that surprises, delights and tickles the audience. Balloons crop up here and there. A rocking horse, stars and a moon, a music box, a swing. Beautifully designed props and scenery by Ivan Yarapolskiy and Dmitry Khamzin pick at your childhood memories (and at times – your nightmares!).
Slava’s snowshow does not have a narrative or a beginning, middle or an end. It’s actually hard to know where the vignettes and sketches will lead, but beneath the playful care-free demeanour of the show, every step, breath and look is careful, choreographed and deliberate.
An insignificant nod of a head, a wink, a snail’s pace trudge across the stage – the movements toe the line between tenderness and tragedy, laced with clownery and foolishness.
This production deliberately disrupts the frenetic pace and convention of many modern productions. It crosses the barriers between the audience and the action on stage and playfully invites adults to re-enter the colourful imaginarium of their youth.
You will instantly lower your guard, becoming absorbed in the wonder of the physicality and comic energy of the clowns the and sheer absurdity of the vignettes. But Slava’s snowshow truly succeeds in speaking to your inner child – and the sheer simplicity of this patchwork of comedy is effective and stunning.
The theatrical inspiration may have come from Chaplin, from Ukranian dramaturgs like Gogol and from street theatre and pantomime – but the language of Slava Polunin is completely universal.
The on stage action is part-dream, part-fantasy and complete spectacle. Polunin’s aim was to fuse together the tragic and the comic and create a kaleidoscope of colour, events and sound. His intention was to revitalise the way modern audiences respond to clowning…the result is more personal, more intelligent and intriguing than anything you might have experienced at a birthday party or witnessed on cheesy Saturday night TV.
The scenes created on stage are wonderfully inventive – a bed becomes a boat, a coat stand becomes a person and curtains become snowy rocks. The action on stage spills out into the audience frequently. Slava’s clowns walk over the backs of audience chairs, a giant cobweb is passed over the heads of the audience and without spoiling any surprises – there is carnage in the theatre at the end of the show. I feel sorry for the people brushing that up!
Even if clowns really aren’t your cup of tea – this is unmissable.
Hairspray is back and bigger than Tracy Turnblad’s hair. It’s louder than the Corny Collins show at full volume. It’s a big bouffant of a musical!
Set in 1962 Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even a bigger heart, is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national TV with The Nicest Kids In Town. Tracys audition not only makes her a local celebrity, she sends sales of Ultra Clutch Hairspray through the roof and bags local heartthrob Link Larkin. However, when Tracy uses her newfound fame to fight for equality, it puts her at loggerheads with Velma Von Tussle the producer of the show but also mother of the show’s “star” teenager, Amber Von Tussle, jeopardising her place on the show and her freedom.
From the opening vamp of “Good Morning Baltimore,” to the final chorus of the finale, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” the shows score a mixture of bubble-gum pop to rhythm and blues is irresistibly catchy. Rebecca Mendoza shines in her professional debut as Tracy whereas Edward Chitticks plays Link Larkin with the right amount of cool that manages to capture your attention and make your heart flutter every time he is on stage. As for Layton Williams who is best known as Stephen Carmichael in the hit BBC Three show Bad Education, he presents a dazzling array of dance skills all whilst crafting a touching relationship with Liard-Bailey’s Penn. However, it is the coupling of Mat Rixon and Norman Pace as Edna and Wilburn Turnblad that gives the show a fantastic comic spark. Their duet of “Your Timeless To Me” was delivered to perfection and Pace body language had the audience in stitches, which makes it shame that the audience saw so little of the two together during Kerryson’s production.
The show features an impressive variety of costumes by Takis from the fabulous ’60s fashions Tracy and Edna get from “Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway”, to Corny’s comical red sequinned suit, and, of course, the giant hairdos sprayed with the titular product. However, Takis’ reliance on a projected backdrop to capture the Civil Rights protests meant at times the stage felt slightly bare but nevertheless did an excellent way of demonstrating the two sides to American society at the time.
Hairspray is full of colour, soul and free spirit that defined the 60s. It is the ultimate feel good show and judging by the amount of smiles in the foyer as people left the venue they didn’t want the beat to end.
If you’ve toyed with the idea of seeing Hairspray on stage but doubted whether anyone could top Ricki Lake’s original 1988 portrayal of Tracy – or indeed Nikki Blonsky’s 2007 film version, you really needn’t worry.
The new stage version of Hairpray brought to you by producers Mark Goucher, Matthew Gale and Laurence Myers will delight new and old fans from start to finish.
The show hasn’t lost an ounce of its popularity, having first swept the board at the Tony Awards on Broadway in 2002 and the more recent film version introducing a new generation of fans to the musical and original film.
Set in 1960s Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad dreams of a starring role as one of the teenage dancers on the popular Corny Collins show – a cheeseball TV format of young beautiful things dancing and miming to the latest pop / rock n roll records.
Already at a disadvantage due to her shape, she encounters the realities of colour segregation rife in Baltimore and the US at the time. Only white teenagers were allowed to dance on the show, apart from ‘Negro Day’ every other Friday.
Based on real events with the real ‘Buddy Deane Show’, on which Hairspray was based, the story sees Tracy lead a group of friends to storm the TV studio and force the live broadcasting of integrated dancing, leading a protest against colour segregation and challenging preconceived ideas about women of shape at the same time.
The show is perfectly aided by a riot of technicolour staging and costume courtesy of TAKIS, while Drew McOnie’s superb vintage choreography will have your heart fluttering and your foot tapping.
But the story reminds us that for all the iconic fashions, bubble-gum scented nostalgia and fondness for the golden era of pop and rock and roll, black Americans were denied basic civil rights across America.
Such was the power and divisiveness of segregation, we see ‘seemingly nice’ young all-American kids suddenly spewing hatred and vitriol when the status quo is challenged. Underneath the petticoats and the chucks and the varsity jackets and polite manners, there is suddenly spite and anger.
Hairspray is gently subversive, poking fun at the idiocy, prejudice and fear at the heart of white America. What’s all the more cutting is the reminder that while the 60s may seem far away, the lurking presence of racism is rearing it’s ugly head again in the US.
Two years ago I used Hairspray (the movie) as a vehicle to talk about civil rights and race in America in the 60s with my little girl. Suddenly, it’s time to return to that ugly, awkward conversation. We’re at a crossroads once again – because ‘nice guys’ in middle America are waving around swastika flags and white hoods.
It’s not too hard to believe that the ‘nice polite white kids’ at the Corny Collins dance might have been the same kids lining up to shout abuse at kids entering the first integrated schools or kicking off at the lunch counters they thought were their domain when black protesters sat in ‘their place’.
So as an audience we laugh when Penny Pingleton’s Mum screams when she finds her daughter in bed with a black boy and shrieks ‘But what about the neighbours….the house prices!?’, when her deep-rooted instinct is to flinch/cower when Seaweed gives her a hug or when others gasp with horror as Tracy Turnblad admits she WOULD swim in an integrated swimming pool.
In some shape or form, we’ve all encountered the tropes and the stereotypes surrounding integration and mixed heritage relationships. We’ve rolled our eyes at the staggering lack of awareness even the nicest of people have, just like those kids at the hop in the ‘Nicest kids in town’ song in the first act.
I was overjoyed to once again see Layton Williams (in the role of Seaweed) at the WMC, who previously slayed in the role of Angel Dumott Schunard in RENT earlier this year. I’ve decided it is utterly impossible to take your eyes off him whenever he is on stage. Former X Factor contestant Brenda Edwards was spellbinding as Motormouth Maybelle, with vocals that shook the rafters and I loved Annalise Liard-Bailey’s squeaky/dorky portrayal of Penny. Ensemble cast member Graham Macduff was also hilarious in all his guises.
As anyone who’s seen the 2007 film adaptation of Hairspray will tell you – you can never unsee the sight of John Travolta in a dress, but Matt Rixon and Norman Pace (of ‘Hale and Pace’) had a wonderful on-stage presence together and clearly enjoyed each other’s company
Hairspray recognises the ridiculousness of racism, blinds it with sequins and deafens these ugly faults with a soundtrack of rock n roll, pop, cha-cha-cha and motown.
It calls racism out for what it is and still dares you to believe that the future will be different. It’s hammy, it’s cheesy, it’s sweet and it’s a glitter bomb of cherry-cola scented joy.
The T-Birds and the Pink Ladies are in the building; Grease has arrived at the Millennium Centre! Featuring everyone’s favourite characters – Sandy, Danny, the sassy Pink Ladies and the groovy T-Birds, the whole gang is back together at Rydell High along with all the unforgettable songs of 1978 hit movie. The original high school musical is back and better than ever!
A talented cast comprising of Tom Parker, from the UK’s top boy band The Wanted as tough boy Danny Zuko, Over The Rainbow winner Danielle Hope as Sandy, Strictly Come Dancing’s Louisa Lytton as Rizzo and Jimmy Osmond as Teen Angel. Gave it their all as they transported us back to 1950s high-school America for a tale of true love going off the rails before finally getting back on track.
Director David Gilmore production of this well loved film is truly electrifying; neon signs, fireworks, numerous costume changes, and the car that magically transforms into a glittermobile kept the narrative flowing at a good pace. Whereas from the opening overture, the band that were clearly visible up and behind the stage were on fire, encouraging audience participation as it played through some of the shows big hits. While former Strictly Come Dancing judge, Arlene Philips, toe-tapping choreographer made you want to get out off your seat and hand jive the night away whilst shouting, ‘A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop, a-wop-bam-boom’!
Tom Parker impresses as he makes his musical theatre debut playing Danny and Danielle Hope plays Sandy beautifully. Louisa Lytton made a suitably fierce Rizzo, whereas the arrival of charismatic Jimmy Osmond as Teen Angel in the second half took the show into another stratosphere as it neared its Grease mega mix finale.
Gilmore production of this well loved classic leaves your face aching from smiling and your hands from clapping. Grease is still very much the word!
You have until Saturday 29 July to see the show. Tickets are available online and over the phone by calling 029 2063 6464.
Sheridan Smith makes a joyous return to theatre in the role of Fanny Brice, for the first leg of the UK tour, after a celebrated run in the West End, bringing her own brand of exuberant mischief and spiritual warmth to the role.
Funny Girl is a bio-musical albeit more fiction that fact about the popular American singer-actress and comedian who was long associated with the Ziegfeld Follies. One of the biggest stars of the early 20th century, Brice lit up both Broadway and Hollywood with her comedic style and powerful voice. A hundred years later (1968), Barbra Streisand won an Academy Award for her portal one of America’s greatest clowns and a true icon of both stage and screen.
Smith was more than capable of overcoming the towering memory of Streisand in the central role, which is no mean feat, with her belting vocals, electable comic timing, assured dancing, earned her an unquestioned standing ovation. It is safe to say where audiences admired Streisand they adore Smith. In her hands, the lively Brooklyn joker is an intricate tangle of competing emotions, all covered up with a big, bright, Broadway smile.
The songs, in particular, Smith makes entirely her own, even though her voice isn’t exactly beautiful, it aches with conviction. Her tremendous rendition of People is steeped in yearning but also cut through with defiance. Whereas Don’t Rain on My Parade, Smith avoids brassy rhetoric to suggest a lonely woman exulting in her newfound happiness. All of which helped to strip the layers of armour-plated implacability to make Fanny a more likeable human being.
As for Darius Campbell, despite looking good in a ruffle shirt and singing each note pitch perfect he was unable to find much colour and variety in the one-dimensional character Nick Arnstein, a part made famous on screen by Omar Sharif. The best support for Fanny comes from Rachel Izen as Mrs Brice her aspirational mother and Joshua Lay as her lovingly loyal dance teacher, Eddie Ryan. Whereas the ensemble tap and ballet numbers from the talented cast were a joy to watch, but were ultimately there to simply support a superstar, Smith. Who has the presence and talent to wilt the hardest hearts, and deserves a packed out auditorium for the rest of the run.
Funny Girl brings West End’s finest to Cardiff, with a cast and supporting ensemble singers and dancers honed to the highest degree of excellency. Based on the real-life story of actress and comedian Fanny Brice, Funny Girl opened as a musical in 1963 on Broadway, transferring to the West End a year later. For many of us, Barbra Streisand’s performance as Fanny in the film still remains in the memory as one of the shining star performances in theatre history.
All the more credit, then, to Sheridan Smith for taking on and embracing a role that calls for every ounce of energy as well as talent in the current revival which opened in the West End last year. Taking place in and around New York just prior to and following World I, this production is staged in its entirety beneath the proscenium arch of the Ziegfeld Theatre, with settings including Fanny’s dressing room at the theatre, Fanny’s home and various other venues where she performed. It’s a rags-to-riches story of Fanny’s rise to stardom and the rise and fall of the courtship and marriage between the unconventional, quirky Fanny and dishy gambler Nick Arnstein.
Smith has the poignancy and the self-doubt behind Fanny’s jokey façade to a T, bringing a tear to the eyes with her singing of People in Act I and belting out with gusto numbers such Don’t Rain on My Parade, although with a tendency now and then to go over the top. Great duets, too, with Darius Campbell as the inveterate gambler Arnstein, who sits down with alacrity to play poker with Fanny’s mum, the indomitable Mrs Brice, and her mates without realising he has fallen into the hands of experts. Campbell is at his best in that scene and in Act I, but not always convincing in the scenes with Smith in the latter half.
The supporting roles do a huge amount towards making this musical what it is, with real star quality from Rachel Izen as Fanny’s mother and Myra Sands as her friend and fellow poker player Mrs Strakosh and some great rendering of numbers such as If A Girl Isn’t Pretty in the opening scene. The nimble-footed Joshua Lay is a wonderfully emotive Eddie Ryan, the dancer who encourages fanny but gets no encouragement from her as far as their personal relationship is concerned. Lay displays some brilliant and acrobatic tap dancing, while Nigel Barber’s portrayal of the legendary Florenz Ziegfeld is almost surreal in its believability.
The dancers and singers of the ensemble have style and panache, with some high speed numbers, notably Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat in Act II, with choreography which includes a touch of the Irish, backed up in intensely green costumes (St Patrick’s Day et al). As for the music – wonderful, with Jule Styne’s tremendous score arranged for this production by Alan Williams and top rank choreography by Lynne Page.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is a familiar story taken from the bible. It is the tale of a younger son, of a favoured wife, being elevated by his doting father and put above his eleven brothers. The brothers, already jealous of their younger brother finally are pushed to action and when their father Jacob gives Joseph the gift of a wonderful new coat and their outrage is complete. The brothers plot to kill Joseph and thus dispose of the problem. However, they fail to complete their plan as they cannot bring themselves to actually commit murder. The answer to this dilemma comes in the form of a travelling slave trader from Egypt and they decide to sell Joseph into slavery. On returning home the brothers tell their father, Jacob, that his beloved son has met with an accident and has been killed by a wild beast and they show him the bloody torn coat as evidence. Meanwhile Joseph has been sold into the household of an Egyptian noble where he works hard and becomes a trusted slave.
However, he catches the eye of the Noble’s wife and is soon accused of wrongdoing. His master has him thrown into prison from which there seems to be no escape. In prison Joseph becomes know for his gift of being able to know the meanings of dreams and this quickly comes to the notice of Pharaoh through his butler, a man who has first hand experience of Joseph’s ability. Joseph is summonsed to Pharaoh’s palace where he is given the task of explaining the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams. Clearly nervous, Joseph tells Pharaoh what his recurring dream means. Egypt will have seven years of bumper harvests followed by years of famine. When the dream comes to pass Pharaoh places his trust in Joseph and puts him in high office and he becomes a trusted Egyptian. During the famine the people are starving and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to try to secure food for their family. The last person they expect to see is Joseph and at first they do not recognise him. Joseph doesn’t make the reunion easy but the family of brothers are eventually reconciled and reunited with Joseph’s parents, so there is a happy ending.
Joseph is a roller coaster ride for the theatre goer of any age. From the moment to curtain rises the production is a vibrant mix of colour and sound to stimulate the senses. From the pens of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joseph is a triumph. They have successfully taken a biblical tale and transformed it into a secular story that bridges the gaps of time and its message has as much meaning now as it had when it was written. Its appeal spans the generations and this was evident by the diversity of the audience what ever their age, gender or religious belief.
Joe McEdderry, gave a convincing and captivating performance as Joseph, his energy on stage is infectious and his smile and demeanour grabs the audience from curtain up right to the last number when he and the cast received a richly deserved standing ovation.
Henry Metcalfe’s choreography was creative and inspiring with many unexpected twists in the tale and lead us to expect the unexpected on several occasions. The costume design was creative and complimented the performances of the actors against a backdrop of scenery which was uncomplicated and did not distract from the telling of the story which in parts had distinctly modern twists and turns and some unexpected characterisations.
The Narrator, Lucy Kay, linked the scenes and lead the viewer on an unforgettable journey of characters, places and far away lands. With the added voices of the children it is a magical experience in which the audience is absorbed into playing an active role and ends in a well deserved standing ovation.
An invited audience to consider, critique and approve a new play from the Parama2 team, staged during Age Cymru’s Gwanwyn Festival 2017.
Examining and delighting in the lives of female factory workers in Wales
As part of a series of creative activities working with factory workers and the likes of us, the public
This time last year, I was one of a small number of women lucky enough to play a part in the MakingIt! creative writing workshops. Loosely addressing the broader project researching the lives of women in Welsh factories, we wrote and acted in our resultant plays. It was fantastic! It opened my eyes to these remarkable women and to the impact their lives had on ours; and a glimpse into the world of writing, producing and acting.
So, when I had an invitation to attend a sharing, a mid-way production of a play written and produced by the same team, I was delighted and very proud. It was joyous to meet my writing group again and we are very much looking forward to the next stage in our joint creative development, thanks to Parama2.
And as to the play itself. Well. What a thing.
Some things make you feel like you have seen them before. You haven’t. They just have something about them which you recognise, instinctively. They appeal on some very basic level. They are the stories you have heard all your life but never read.
This is how this play makes me feel. I know these women. They are the women I descend from. They would not know me at all. I would be English to them, posh, privileged; and they’d be right. I loved everyone of them. I wondered how my grandmother in the ribbon factory during the war would’ve fitted in.
Great characters all and very well played. Each one clearly defined early on, no messing. Nice clear scripting supported by simple direction and uncomplicated acting. Neat storytelling, relying on the punch of the words and their delivery. Everyone different and balancing against each other perfectly. Enough given away to know there is a bigger story or two out there in the wings but that we will have to wait to hear them. A precious ring and a grammar school kid for starters. Great stuff. Nothing spectacular, realistic and homely.
And funny. A terrific bombastic lead with a right few pals around her but no one hogs the show. This is partly because of the singing. We sing. We’re Welsh. We can’t help it, apparently. It turns a play into a musical and in those moments, we get the chance to breathe and to think and to piece it all together. The songs are clever, witty, sad and funny and really well sung. There are some really good voices on that stage and they add to the individuality of the women, they make them even more solid and agreeable.
And as a retired factory worker in the audience said,
‘We were on the bus and this woman wouldn’t stop singing – someone shut that woman up, they said. Shirley Bassey it was.’
We all like a tune to take home.
We are shown a film too. A touching vignette of a tea dance in Porthcawl wrapped up with Tom Jones. And there they were, some of them, sitting just in front of me. Truly delightful and very much part of the story of the factory workers but I wasn’t sure how this fitted in with the play. Perhaps it was just a reminder of the continuing zest for life they had, in spite of or perhaps because of, the hard work and their fights for rights. And to remind us that they are not all dead, it is not that long ago. Keep up.
Discussion afterwards is relevant and interesting. It has the feel of an audience wanting to be heard, full of ideas and histories.
More men comment than women. Maybe they still just shout louder. Different people from different backgrounds suggest different angles – more facts, more slog, more reality. There is enough of all of these. These women found fun in what did, they were the trailblazers for our freedoms and quite frankly, we could learn a thing or two from them.
This play will help them teach us, if only we listen.
The smash hit musical production returned to the Centre with director and choreograph Craig Revel Horwood from Strictly Come Dancing at the helm. Who gave this tried and tested production that has gone through various permutations since the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film a real musical heart.
Sister Act tells the hilarious story of Deloris Van Cartier, a sassy nightclub singer in 1977/78 in need of witness protection after witnessing a murder. Deloris is hidden in the one place she won’t be found – a convent! Forced to wear a habit, and eat nothing but mutton, Deloris clashes with Mother Superior and begins to lead her fellow sisters astray, until she finds her calling in teaching them to sing.
Alexandra Burke really shines in the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier, each witty line or facial expression is delivered to perfection. However, it is when she opens her mouth to sing, we’re reminded of why audiences voted for her in there millions during 2008 X Factor. Burke’s voice never falters; her dancing is wonderfully expressive and comedic, it is her ability to make her audience laugh while ensuring their feet never stop tapping, makes her truly sensational as Deloris.
This show contains a fabulous group of musicians, who, instead of playing in the orchestra pit, take the role of various characters such as the trumpet playing Mother Superior played by Karen Mann. Who along with Burke are truly at the heart of this warm, funny and entertaining production but they are by no means the only ones. The whole cast displays a great deal of energy and enthusiasm and present as though they are loving life when signing Alan Menken original musical numbers including ‘Raise Your Voice,’ ‘Take Me to Heaven,’ and the show-stopping finale ‘Spread the Love Around.’
From the first moment to the big finale, the show is wonderful. A perfect lead in Burke, a great cast as well as a superb script and songs have been combined perfectly by the director into perhaps the best show to grace the stage of the Centre in a long time.
First things first, let’s get one thing clear – I am a steadfast ‘Rent Head’ and after this show – will remain so probably for the rest of my life and I make no apologies for this.
That being said, it’s been a whole 19 years since I was wowed (age 17 – yikes) by Jonathan Larson’s rock opera for a modern age. I wasn’t sure if the years had been kind to this production – would I even like it anymore? The show’s UK tour marks the 20th anniversary of the show.
Rent may have been billed as a parable of the modern age (inspired by Puccini’s opera La bohème), but it was also a snapshot of the 90s era, too: the cusp of the digital revolution, the internet age, the crude expansion of gentrification or ‘hipsterfication’ of previously bohemian neighbourhoods, the effects of AIDS on young communities following the 80s epidemic and scare stories. Maybe it would have lost some of it’s relevance? I had my reservations.
Back in 1998 at Shaftesbury Theatre in London, Rent was still very much in it’s infancy and was at the peak of it’s popularity, having won a shower of critical acclaim stateside (Pulitzer drama prize,four Tony awards, six Drama desk Awards, ‘Best Musical’ Awards and an Obie Award).
In ‘98, this was a show unlike anything else I had seen before. When I last saw it. I was an idiot teenager with a questionable taste in ridiculous infantile men. By the time I emerged from that theatre though, it shifted my view of the world.
But suddenly, my childish attempts to write poetry suddenly had context and purpose. I too wanted to dance on the table wearing spandex and hang from poles singing at the top of my voice like Mimi Marquez, go on protests like Maureen and befriend drag queens just like Angel Schunard.
In fact I did all of things…even though I couldn’t legitimately call myself a bohemian due to my love for global coffee chains. But even so – it didn’t even matter that my poetry was shit! I loved the way Jonathan Larson had pushed boundaries in the theatre world. I even went on to study Theatre and Media Drama and found my own little theatre circle…and my battered Rent CD (original Broadway cast recording) has accompanied me on all my journeys around the world since my 17th birthday.
So how to go about fairly reviewing a show that I have such a strong personal attachment to?
It may have been 19 years since I last saw Rent, but I can certainly see the differences (and improvements).
Lee Proud’s choreography was electric (fans of La Vie Boheme will love the table and chair dance), Angel’s acrobatic dance routine and of course the memorable ‘Tango Maureen’ – better and edgier than I remember at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Anna Fleischle’s set design includes multiple scaffolding layers on all sides and there nice touches – projecting Mark’s film on an old sheet, a trapeze, a pole, moving structures as vehicles for the characters, cages during the song ‘Contact’ – Maureen’s hilarious costume surprise during her protest song.
Rent is centred around a group of young struggling artists in New York’s East Village – they are fighting the property expansion and development which threatens to take over their performance space and remain true to their artforms and to themselves. I know how this sounds! And yes – over the years Rent’s edgy style (and way of incorporating social commentary into a musical) has been mercilessly parodied and skewered by the likes of Team America.
And yet! There are so many layers to unwrap and musical styles to bask in throughout this show…and try as I might even all these years later after seeing the first show in 1998, I couldn’t get through the first three songs without ruining my mascara and blubbing (I also snorted out loud…in front of some minor Welsh celebs in the audience. Oh well!)
It’s sometimes a mistake to get so accustomed to an original cast recording that you can’t imagine anyone else singing those parts. All these years, I had no idea I was loving the voice of someone who would later become the voice of a Disney character (Idina Menzel, the original cast member for ‘Maureen’ went on to become the voice of Elsa, much to the annoyance of parents worldwide who had to listen to ‘Let it go’ 1,000 times a day).
I wasn’t sure how Lucie Jones (an X-Factor contestant – pah!) would handle the role of Maureen. And I was entirely wrong to pre-judge her due to my dislike of the X-Factor because not only did Lucie Jones absolutely SLAY the role of Maureen, she brought out even more of a kooky side to her (and single-handedly inspired me to lose three stone so I can look as amazing as she did in that body stocking! Wow).
Ryan O’Gorman’s sweet portrayal of Collins was beautiful – and his silky baritone vocals not only matched the calibre of the broadway version of Rent but perhaps even went one step beyond it.
The interaction between Leyton Williams (who previously had the title role of London’s Billy Elliot) as the lovely Angel and Collins was a joy to witness – and Layton brought a whole new talent to Angel’s ‘Today for you, tomorrow for me’ routine with astonishing leaps, spins and flips….and all in outrageous heels and a cloak coat.
You might think Jonathan Larson’s energy and optimism in the music and lyrics may come across as syrupy and hammy….but lord knows we need this more in 2017 than we did in 1996 when Rent opened.
For me Rent’s underlying sadness is that for all it’s popularity and influence, writer/composer Jonathan Larson’s early death (age 35) meant that he never got to see any of the success and joy that this musical has brought to people over the last 20 years.
Even all these years later, Larson ‘s story remains relevant and engaging for modern audiences. We are what we own. We’re knee-deep in a culture of mindless McJobs and as Mark and Roger sing: ‘We’re living in America…leave your conscience at the tone’. In the age of deportations and walls and blind gun laws (let along the way the tide is turning against LGBTQ communities), I really do question humanity sometimes.
I don’t know how many terms Donald Trump has or how many years of damage our current generation has ahead of them, but though it all I’ll still listen that old Rent CD of mine and remind myself that ‘We’re Okay’.
Bruce Guthrie’s production and Cardiff’s warm and inviting reception to Rent’s songs show me that there are still good people in the world. And I know this because all of them were mooing, crying, laughing and on their feet by my side at the end.
I’m definitely not leaving it another 19 years before I see this show again!