Rent – New Wolsey Theatre

Over the years Gallery Players have never been afraid of tackling challenging pieces but even then tackling Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent was an ambitious leap. Thankfully it’s a leap worth taking and turns out to be a highlight of the theatrical year.

Larson’s update on La Boheme follows a year in the life of eight friends in downtown New York as they cope with life, love and the spectre of HIV. While not sounding like a particularly cheery night at the theatre, this production is so full of life and energy that it never fails to inspire.

One of the many joys of this particular production is that it showcases the immense talent in the area, this complex score is not easy to perform but this top-notch cast deliver with attack, vocal power and conviction. It is difficult to single out individual performances as this ensemble works well as a whole but a couple of particular moments stand out. Phil Kinsella’s portrayal of drag queen Angel and Dean Wales’ emotional response to Angel’s death especially strong. This is however a first rate cast and all deliver performances to be proud of. The cast are obviously enjoying performing this material and it shows in their exuberant performance.

Steve Wooldridge’s direction hits the ground running and makes full use of the multi level set while Musical Director Richard Healey and his band revel in belting out this rich rock score.

There were some technical issues on opening night, but once these are ironed out for the remainder of the run this will be a production hard to fault.

Rent has become a modern American musical classic, and given the untimely death of its composer you can’t help but wonder what else Larson would have gone on to write. As it stands Rent remains as his legacy to musical theatre history and this Gallery Players production showcases this masterpiece to its very best. The full house on opening night demonstrates that local companies can move away from a diet of Rodgers and Hammerstein and take more risks with their choice of programming. Once again Gallery Players have set the bar high and other companies will need to up their game to reach their high standards.

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