Review: Rent 20th Anniversary (St James)

Reviewed by: Sophie Ross
13th December 2016
Reviewer rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

It’s been twenty years since Rent first premiered off-broadway and to this day, it’s still wowing audiences all over. With the original production winning a bucket load of awards, it’s a show that still holds such a strong, empowering and important message. The show is set in the nineties in New York city and follows a group of people through the many struggles and triumphs of life. Written by Jonathan Larson, it’s a rock musical that portrays the peak of the artistic East Village scene and touches on issues such as HIV, drug use etc. With this year marking the 20th anniversary, it only felt right to reprise the show, directed by Bruce Guthrie, the importance of the show is once again reintroduced, opening at the St James Theatre last night.


With absolute spot on casting, it’s great to see the show brought back to life, still pulling at your heart strings and leaving you with such thought as you leave the theatre. It’s still as phenomenal as ever and this production goes to show it. With a 15 strong cast, the talent that oozes from each and every one of them is incredible. The vocals are faultless and the energy that they give takes it to a whole new level.

With four powerful leading men Billy Cullum (Mark), Ryan O’Gorman (Collins), Ross Hunter (Rodger) and Layton Williams (Angel), they each bring something fresh and exciting to the roles and play a wonderful tribute Larson’s legacy with the show. Williams is one of the best Angels we’ve seen (and surely a further Lola in Kinky). He brings sass, energy, compassion and fierceness to the role and does it all with such ease. The on stage chemistry/relation with O’Gorman brings such realness which makes them the perfect pairing.


With the show holding such iconic songs such as Seasons of Love,  a real standout performance was the ultimate break up ballad Take Me or Leave Me sung by Lucie Jones (Maureen) and Shanay Holmes (Joanne). With such powerful vocals, it was more like a diva-off with each line bringing more sass and fierceness. Phillipa Stefani plays a wonderful Mini who brings such a raw, emotive and real spin on the character.


Lee Proud’s choreography is both bold and diverse which adds so much life to the performance. The cast’s timing is tight and on point which can only be every and is delivered with power and high energy. The set brings to life Larson’s original visionary and the story is told oh so well. Guthrie’s direction is clever and very impressive throughout. You’ll be left feeling a deep connection to these characters and it’s very likely that you’ll shred a few tears along the way. The importance of this dynamic show will leave you with such reflection and as the story tells, there really is no day but today.


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