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The Shows That Made Us: RENT

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BWW Reviewer Emma-Hope Newitt shares why this American musical made an impact on her

The Shows That Made Us: RENT

When I was asked to share which show made me, a lot sprung to mind immediately. I was inspired by the choreography in West Side Story, cried for hours over the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack, and Wicked gave me a defying love for a story I thought I knew so well. I honestly believe that each musical we witness makes us in different ways, whether it's how we approach relationships, friendships or the future. But the one musical that had the biggest impact on me personally, and the one I talk about the most, is RENT.

I remember the first time I saw this was back in college when I was studying for my Musical Theatre diploma. A friend had been raving about this American musical that she said was incredibly powerful. What's even more curious is that we had in fact sung "Seasons of Love" in a concert that year; I often wondered where it came from. It must have been in 2008, three years after the film was released, that I watched it for the first time. It not only brought me joy and optimism, but gave me a huge wake-up call on the reality of AIDS and sexuality in a way I hadn't experienced before in a film. I remember thinking afterwards "Wow!", and it's stuck with me ever since.

Other than watching the film and listening to the soundtrack, I have only seen a production of the musical, in real life, three times - although I have definitely seen the Broadway performance of the show on DVD a few times too. Two local amateur groups took on the musical, but it wasn't until 2017 when the UK Tour really did the show justice. It reminded me exactly why I loved RENT so much, and Layton Williams' performance as Angel will never be bettered. The rest of the cast was stellar, too, including Lucie Jones, who at the time was also the UK contestant for Eurovision.

I think what makes RENT stand above the other musicals I've seen over the years is its approach to difficult subject matter. It candidly portrays issues such as AIDS, homophobia, poverty and drug addiction, fuelled by the most powerful score. The opening chords of "Seasons of Love" and "Without You" always give me goosebumps! I love how the show also encapsulates a group of friends all heading in their own directions, with Mark, a struggling Jewish documentary filmmaker, narrating a year in their lives together. I know there's a real divide on this musical too, but the fans of RENT are as loyal as the ones for Popular Productions like Wicked.

I think this musical is very underrated and hasn't been given the full opportunity to make it back into the West End, so I'd really like to see it resurface in the future. We've been lucky during lockdown that the 2016 tour cast filmed "Seasons of Love" (you can watch that video here); it's one of the most beautiful things I watched. I have often wondered where their rumoured cast recording went - any ideas?

If there's a musical I want to get my hands on when theatres reopen, it's RENT, and I feel fortunate to have my tickets already booked for the production at the Hope Mill Theatre in November. I couldn't think of a more perfect show to watch when this strange interval is over.

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From This Author Emma-Hope Newitt