Making a song and dance of life

    HEAVEN RENT The cast in action PHOTO: Matt Crockett

    IF YOU thought musicals were either sweet or sad then RENT is going to quite simply blow that simplistic notion right out of the water when it rocks up at the Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells.

    Loosely inspired by Puccini’s La Boheme opera, RENT is a grittier, edgier, more passionate and pulsating version of its meeker musical cousins which tells the tale of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive during the days of Bohemian excess in New York City’s East Village. It follows a year in their hectic, turbulent life from 1989 to 1990 where we see AIDS, love and loss impact on them in one powerful production.

    In short, RENT, which was on Broadway for a decade before it moved to the West End where it ran for another ten years, is not shy of being bold, in your face and controversial.

    And, after 20 years of representing the murkier side of musicals in both New York and London, it’s now been reworked for the 21st century and going on tour for the first time in the UK.

    The tour kicked off last November and its final stop is our very own Assembly Hall which is hosting the production – originally written by Jonathan Larson – from next Tuesday until Saturday May 27.

    This particular touring version has been put together by director Bruce Guthrie and legendary 80s musicals star-turned-choreographer Lee Proud. It also features a cast of 17 which includes Lucie Jones (as Maureen Johnson) who was this year’s Eurovision UK entrant and also Bad Education star Layton Williams, the first black Billy Elliot, (who plays Angel Schunard).

    “We started rehearsing in September last year,” reveals Lee. “We then kicked off the tour in November and our aim is to bring this iconic musical to a new generation of fans – or RENT Heads as they are known.”

    Lee, who originally started off as a performer in hit shows like Starlight Express and Billy Elliot before becoming a choreographer, says he had a very ‘clear vision’ when director Bruce Guthrie brought him on board.

    “Traditionally dance takes a back seat to all the drama and singing but we purposefully put it at the heart of our 2017 production,” Lee continues. “I’ve aimed to create a type of fluidity where the audience shouldn’t be able to tell where the dance begins and ends.”

    Although it takes its original creative cue from the story of La Bohème which was about young bohemians living in Paris, and has the original Jonathan Larson production to reference, Lee says that ‘it can’t look like you’re copying anything’.

    This, he says, meant he was determined to make things look as ‘fresh, anarchic and spontaneous’ as possible when the show’s iconic numbers such as Seasons of Love, Take me or Leave Me and La Vie Boehme are being belted out.

    Given the rave reviews the tour has had so far – showbusiness bible The Stage deemed the choreography as ‘dynamic’ while The Guardian said it provided ‘energy and momentum’ – he has certainly achieved that goal.

    RENT comes to the Assembly Hall Theatre from Tuesday May 23 to Saturday May 27. For prices, timings and to book, visit www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk or call 01892 530 613.