I was fortunate enough to see RENT again 3 times in the closing week in Tunbridge Wells on the 23rd, 25th and 27th of May.
Luckily, I saw Christina Modestou twice as Maureen. She was amazing! Vocals were so expressive and her range and power were intense. To top it off her comic timing was so on point! She was hilarious in ‘Over the Moon‘, which I’ll admit isn’t one of my favourite songs. Throughout the show she was in character at all times and her emotion at the end of the finale were really honest. The on stage chemistry with Shanay Holmes (Joanne) was great. They both reacted well to each other and ‘Take me or Leave me‘ was outstanding!
I also enjoyed seeing Raffaello Covino take to the stage twice as a member of the swing. Her druggie character was so expressive and real. She has an amazing voice too which carried well in the ensemble and her solo parts were clear and expressive. She is a very well trained dancer and it really showed during the ‘La Vie Boheme‘ choreography and her general stage presence. Raff had stepped in to be Mimi in a earlier venue after only one day of rehearsals so is obviously a true pro and I hope to see her in further shows
On these visits I loved soaking it all in and finding out everything I could about the show. I particularly thought that the lighting was excellent! It really added to the atmosphere and the use of the red light, spot lights and general low lighting really set off the meaning of the lyrics and plot. I had never really noticed this before but was struck by how fitting it all was, tied in with the amazing set and use of the stage it all worked harmoniously and felt completely in sync.
I was once again in awe of the choreography. The problem with any show is that it is over so quickly but when you go back and see it over again you can really appreciate every element. ‘La Vie Boheme’ obviously sticks out for the choreography but I also felt that ‘Christmas Bells‘, ‘Out Tonight‘, ‘Contact‘ and ‘Rent‘ were performed seamlessly and the dance moves added to the show rather than just being part of it. The general stage use and direction was outstanding. The actors use every inch of the stage and their movements and actions are so believable that you really feel like they are that character living that life.
It was also the first time I had really concentrated on Billy Cullum who played Mark. His comic timing during ‘Tango Maureen‘ was impeccable! I loved it! Throughout Act 1 he was so funny and really showed Mark to be the light-hearted character who holds the group together. In Act 2, he showed his caring, emotional side and although his heart wasn’t on his sleeve like some of the other characters I felt it worked just as well, if not better. I also love the argument between him and Roger in ‘Goodbye Love’. Both Billy and Ross Hunter were great and you could see the struggle between the two friends.
I have to mention Philippa Stefani again! She was just amazing. I have never seen an actor give so much on stage. From being high on drugs (complete with the facial grimaces, twitching and trembling) to being happy and love and back to falling into complete addiction again in the second act she just nailed every emotion and gave them with such conviction! Her dance skills were put to good use throughout and her use of the stage was super. Of course her vocals were amazing. I especially like all the little flicks and subtle riffs that she does. I am completely in awe of her talent and how she can commit to that level of intensity and emotion every day. I certainly can’t wait to see what she does next and hope she continues to perform for a long time yet.
Joshua Dever was superb onstage. He really played the different characters well and I loved his solo opening to ‘Will I?‘ – really heartfelt rendition.
This all leads me onto the closing night! The atmosphere was electric. Bruce Guthrie started with a lovely speech thanking everyone from the production team, choreography, MDs, casting agents to, of course, the cast as well. His speech was really honest and came from the heart. To finish the speech the audience had a 1 minute applause before Billy came out to start the show. The applause was out of this world! Crazy and such an amazing way to start the show.
The last performance was just outstanding on every level! The cast were better than I’ve ever seen them and every single one of them clearly gave it their very all and enjoyed being on stage. The audience were on fire too and the applause for each song was immense. Lucie Jones even jumped off from the stage during ‘Over the Moon’!
To start Act 2 ‘Seasons of Love‘ was just so special. The audience were clapping along and to each soloist and every cast member was just grinning, enjoying it and clearly loving every second of this amazing show. They maintained composure though and through the second act they were just as emotional and raw as ever. The ‘Finale B‘ was just so special and I think everyone was just wanting it to never end! I’ve never witnessed an audience reaction to a show as much as this and it felt a privilege to be part of something so special.
The heartfelt comments, tweets and photos from the cast members throughout the 27th May really showed how much the show meant to them and the journey they had all been on. Something I don’t think every show has. I hope to see them all in their future projects as they are all undeniably, hugely talented, committed and dedicated artists. I feel really sad that I can no longer follow their little RENT updates, backstage banter and tweets but have thoroughly enjoyed the past 5 months following their journey and becoming a true RENTHead.
Over the week I went to the stage door each time and had the opportunity to speak to the cast. Something I never would have done a while back. I met and spoke to most of the cast and they were all so lovely, humble and kind to the fans. They were obviously in a rush to get to the train most nights and on closing night they had a wrap party in London but they still always stopped for a photo, autograph and a chat. Harrison, Billy, Katie, Joshua, Christina and Javar were particularly lovely and all stopped for long chats. Lucie was apologizing about having to dash off but still stopped to see everyone. Shanay and Layton were so kind and glam! Ross, Raff, Bobbie and Ryan, although brief, were really nice and were happy to stop for a photo and quick autograph. To top it off I got to meet Philippa twice! This means so much to me as I have seen her in shows over the past 10 years and her talent is just so awe inspiring.
It was really heart-breaking seeing all of the set and props being loaded into the trucks knowing that they will not be used again but the atmosphere on stage door was something I won’t forget. Seeing so many faces I recognise from Twitter, Instagram and the MTAS website was great and the love for the cast was evident.
I know that RENT is just a show but it has really helped me over this year to go back to who I was and better. Personally, the past few years have been so hard and there have been so many times that I truly have felt that I couldn’t carry on. But this year I’ve done things that I never would have done or even have been able to before. The message that is played throughout the show is of acceptance and living for each day and I finally feel like I understand that, something that a while back I never thought I would again. It’s reminded me of my passion for theatre and music and I can finally go to the theatre again and enjoy it rather than fear it. Thank you to all involved in this 20th Anniversary Production. I honestly have enjoyed it so much and have so much to thank it for.
To finish, I want to quote Bruce Guthrie who summed up RENT exactly:
‘At its heart, Rent is about family, love and hope in the most difficult of circumstances. It deals with choices about how we live our lives, how we see the world and what is most important to us. Rather than despairing about how little time we have, we should live each moment as if it were our last’
No Day But Today!