This review also appears in Western Park Gazette
Book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Directed by Paul Kerryson
Musical Director Ben Atkinson
If you’re looking for an antidote to the red, sugar-coated Annie (also showing at Curve), then save up for multi-award winning Rent, the dirty fairytale of New York and you’ll see a show way off the other end of the musical spectrum (this is a good thing, by the way).
Rent has a poignant history: composer and lyricist Jonathan Larson died suddenly the day before curtain up on his labour of love in 1996. Add the fact this opening night was on the 100th anniversary of the first performance of Puccini’s La Boheme (on which Rent is loosely based) then you have the stuff of fate and folklore.
Charting the ins and outs of relationships amongst a group of friends living in New York’s bohemian East Village, Rent presents a year in the life of ‘90s America and how this group of young people cope with the spectres of AIDS, homelessness and loneliness. The characters themselves self-indulge, are not particularly endearing and one could argue some aspects of their misfortune are self-inflicted, however, the sheer force and power of the songs pulls you headlong with them on their journey – it’s a riveting experience.
More a rock opera, Rent merges elements of La Boheme with a pulsing contemporary score. Much of the story is told in a recital style, with characters arguing or conversing in song. It’s lyric-heavy but these lyrics are witty, clever and enjoyable. Another sparse set by Al Parkinson but this time sparsity worked, rocking the urban steel wasteland look.
Paul Kerryson has done a fantastic job with this amateur cast; Curve’s Community production of Annie is good but this is outstanding. The dynamics and level of sound created by everyone on stage outshines many professional productions seen in recent years.
Who to single out? It may be fairer to comment on the three key relationships at the core of the musical. Mimi and Roger (Lola McKinnon and Jak Scally), Joanne and Maureen (Sharan Phull and Tabatha Pegg) and Tom and Angel (Matthew Browne and Keir Barradell) all have great chemistry with their respective partners and as a group of friends. Three words describe these three duos: crazy, sexy, cool.
Amongst the highlights, Tabatha’s performance of Over the Moon is brave and totally bonkers. The most well known song, Seasons of Love, is nicely done and I’ll Cover You is a tender contrast to the rockier numbers. Great support is also provided by Christopher Smith in several roles and Christopher McCann as Benny but what struck me was the range and versatility of these young actors who, in a matter of hours, will play somewhat different roles in Annie; no mean feat.
Rent could have been preachy but it is more a snapshot of different lives struggling to survive. The standing ovation was well deserved, and if you like to compare and contrast, these joint productions of Annie and Rent make interesting programming if you can see them both. However, whilst Annie is for and about children, Rent most definitely is one for the grown ups. Recommended.
Annie is at Curve 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 8th – 10th August
Rent is at Curve 31 July, 1st, 4th and 7th August
Images by Pamela Raith Photography