RENT – Review – Showing In Leeds

rent leeds kerry ellis
Adam Wollerton

With a cast spearheaded by two previous Elphabas from Wicked from the West End and Broadway, Kerry Ellis and Nikki Davis-Jones respectively, teamed up with ITV Superstar runner up Rory Taylor, the 20th anniversary concert of RENT is set to be a real hit.

Upon entering the auditorium at City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds, filled to full capacity, we were presented with a basic set consisting of a large digital screen and several raised platforms linked by stairs. This is quite typical of a concert version of a show, but with a piece like RENT, entirely reliant upon music, the cast’s use of the stage was quite intuitive and quickly made you forget that there was not really any set of note. It was a nice addition to have the band on stage with the actors, intertwined around the set.

And so the production began! After a rather lengthy comical attempt by Paul Ayres (playing the poor filmmaker Mark) to attach the camera to the stand, the first musical number ‘Rent’ burst into life on stage, created by a rather powerful yet small cast. I will credit the chorus on their ability to not only match the lead singers in this production but push each other to strive for the big notes. A rather sensational high note from Tim Prottey Jones later on in the show during his solo in ‘Seasons Of Love’ had the audience erupt into cheers, in fact.

Rory Taylor, the ITV Superstar runner up, took on the role of Roger, and although his singing voice was second to none for the part, I do feel he lacked a certain grittiness that Roger usually embodies. His focus and character also slipped once or twice when he began looking to the audience and letting a few notes slip. However, these were quickly picked up in duets when the sensational first lady of the West End, Kerry Ellis, stepped forward as Mimi.

After following Kerry’s career in the West End and Broadway, and observing her performances as Elphaba in Wicked and Nancy in Oliver!, it was certainly different to see her in a role that didn’t have iconic belting solo numbers to hold it up, such as the previous showstoppers ‘Defying Gravity’ or ‘As Long As He Needs Me’.  Instead, the audience were treated to the cheeky side of Miss Ellis in ‘Out Tonight’ as she captured the hearts of her quickly won fans when singing ‘Without You’, bringing a vulnerable intimacy to the vast space.

If there is one number I always look forward to in this production, it has to be ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’. This is a feisty and powerful tune sung by Maureen and Joanne at their wedding as they sing about accepting each other regardless of their faults. Originally sung by Idina Menzel (also a former Elphaba), this song had some large boots to fill. However, Nikki Davis-Jones as Maureen and Jemma Alexander as Joanne definitely did not disappoint. They made this song their own and captured the sexual tension, frustration and intimacy of the couple as they hit those huge notes exceptionally well, really giving the audience their money’s worth – so much so that at one point it sounded like the microphones could not take the intensity.

The role of Angel was played magnificently by Ian Stroughair, with perfect comic timing and a beautiful voice, especially when matched harmoniously with Leon Lopez as Collins in their duet of ‘I’ll Cover You’.

If there was a stand-out performance in the whole show, it has to be awarded to Nikki Davis-Jones as Maureen. Not only was her singing breath-taking and her acting humorous, but when she took on the huge feat of performing the iconic musical monologue ‘Over The Moon’, she made some brilliant acting choices and really made it her own. She deserves huge credit for a memorable and lasting performance in a show that has been recreated countless times over the past twenty years.

The 20th Anniversary Concert of RENT was a brilliant production to have had the privilege to see, especially with such a theatrically star-studded cast. Definitely keep your eye on this cast, they have even bigger things ahead of them.

 

@AdamWollerton