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Rent Remixed -The Reviews (bad to average)

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Rent Remixed -The Reviews (bad to average)#1
Posted: 10/16/07 at 9:33am
Gaurdian Newspaer (1 out of 5 stars)




Theatre
Rent


* Duke of York Theatre, London

Michael Billington
Tuesday October 16, 2007
The Guardian

Denise Van Outen in Rent
A nice girl trying to be raunchy ... Denise Van Outen. Photograph: Tristram Kenton


They call this "Rent Remixed". I'd dub it "Rent Reduced", in that the late Jonathan Larson's reworking of La Bohème, while never a great musical, has been turned into a grisly, synthetic, pseudo pop concert with no particular roots or identity. It may be significant that the director, William Baker, and the music supervisor, Steve Anderson, are described as "the celebrated creative team behind Kylie".

Originally seen off Broadway in 1996, Rent was the Hair of its day: a tribal musical that offered a hymn to the suffering young on New York's Lower East Side, with characters who vaguely echoed Puccini's originals. Roger was a musical wannabee in love with Mimi, a show-dancing, HIV-positive heroin-addict. Meanwhile his mate Mark, an aspiring movie-maker, had been dumped by Maureen for a lesbian partner. Tom, an anarchic computer-buff, fell for a frisky drag-queen, Angel, who also expired prematurely. It wasn't great, but the original had a rough workshop spontaneity and provided a touching anthem to doomed American youth.

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The plot and numbers have been retained in this new version but everything else has been senselessly jettisoned. The characters in Baker's updated version now inhabit a white-walled, perspex-screened, skeletal-doored world that shrieks Manhattan chic: if this is raffish Bohemian poverty, I wouldn't mind some of it. The songs, re-ochestrated for a four-piece orchestra, also never seem to stem from a precise social context, but become a series of discrete numbers. It is all as misguided as a recent attempt to yank Hair out of its 1960s world and treat it as a modern protest musical.

Even more dubiously, this production pays lip-service to the original's sincere attempt to depict a world in which Aids was all-pervasive. But, instead of focusing on Mimi's and Angel's condition, the show has a newsreel ticker-tape that catalogues some of the famous victims of Aids: Freddie Mercury, Derek Jarman, Kenny Everett and many more.

So what is one left with? Not much. Denise Van Outen, as the character who leads the protest against the eviction-process, struts her stuff like a parody Madonna, but I felt she was a nice girl trying to be raunchy. Siobhan Donaghy as Mimi also sings pleasantly and reveals a nifty pair of pins. Luke Evans and Oliver Thornton do what they can with the under-characterised Roger and Mark, and Jay Webb as the boyish drag-queen flounces appropriately. But the show is not so much a carbon-copy of the original as a reductive re-hash of a show that caught something of the flavour of 90s New York.


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The Times 3/5

Sam Marlowe at the Duke of York's

Jonathan Larson’s rock musical about arty young New Yorkers living and loving under the shadow of Aids opened off-Broadway in 1996. Inspired by Puccini’s La bohème, it acquired mythological status when Larson died just before opening night aged 35 of an aortic aneurysm. It went on to win many awards and is still playing on Broadway today.

In London it was a different story. Rent hit the West End in 1998 — and flopped, with British audiences and critics failing to respond to its blend of bombast and sentiment. Now it has been reimagined by William Baker, the creative brains behind Kylie Minogue’s transformation from soapstar to gay icon and pop princess, and director of her stage shows. If anyone can give Larson’s musical a hip replacement, it ought to be Baker, along with fellow Kylie collaborator, the musical supervisor Steve Anderson, and a sexy cast including Denise Van Outen and the former Sugababe Siobhan Donaghy.

But the fact is, Rent still can’t quite pay its way.

The songs, apart from a few numbers — notably Seasons of Love and Take Me or Leave Me — are forgettable. The characterisation is slight and the plot lacks focus; for every effective moment there are three of thumping mawkishness. And if Larson intended to present a gritty slice of street life, there’s no new evidence of that here. Baker may have toned down the eyes-and-teeth showbiz bravura, but inhabitants of this Alphabet City are hardly slumming it, on a white multi-levelled set by Mark Bailey, across which famous names who lost their lives to Aids scroll in red neon.

Still, Anderson has done a cracking job of funking up Larson’s score, replacing overweening guitar rock with pumping gay club anthems and diva pop, flavoured with rippling keyboards and electronica. Ashley Wallen’s choreography could be more imaginative, but Baker draws winning performances from his glamorous cast — not least Van Outen as the voracious bisexual performance artist Maureen. In thigh-high boots, leotard and biker jacket, yelling, “Are you having f***ing fun or what?”, she’s like Madonna at her live, ballsy best. Oliver Thornton and Luke Evans bring intensity and a latent homoeroticism to the friendship of the narrator, Mark, and his room-mate, Roger. Yet the only touching relationship is that of Leon Lopez’s brawny Collins and Jay Webb’s adorable and emotionally tough Angel, who succumbs to Aids, in the form of a throng of S&M vampires, in camp, affecting style.

Donaghy, though, disappoints as the heroin-addicted dancer Mimi. Pallid and flame-haired, she has a junkie’s fragility. But she moves stiffly; performing the slinky burlesque number that replaces Larson’s shouty song of seduction she looks as if she’s longing to climb out of her corset and go home.

Overall, this is a flawed product stylishly repackaged. Whether it spawns a new generation of “Renthead” fans remains to be seen. But I suspect Larson wouldn’t have been displeased with the makeover.


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The Telegraph

Charles Spencer reviews a stripped-down revival of Rent at the Duke of York's Theatre

This deeply unwelcome revival of the lachrymose American musical is modishly billed as Rent Remixed.

Denise Van Outen in Rent Remixed
Embarrassing: Denise Van Outen in Rent Remixed

Rent Drastically Reduced would be nearer the mark. Masterminded by director William Baker and music supervisor Steve Anderson, best known (though not in my circles) as the creative team behind Kylie Minogue, the show cuts Jonathan Larson’s musical to the bone. There are just four musicians in the pit, and a supporting ensemble of only seven.

Gone too is the grunge-filled atmosphere of the original, a celebration of bohemian New Yorkers coping with poverty, Aids and the eternal self-absorption of youth loosely based on Puccini’s La Boheme.

Instead everything is modishly minimal. The allegedly squalid loft where the characters hang out on the lower East Side looks as sleek and clean as New York’s Museum of Modern Art and there isn’t a glimpse of the poverty of which the characters, in their neatly pressed clothes and expensive leather S&M gear, so frequently complain.

I hated Rent first time round (it opened on Broadway in 1996 and is, astonishingly, still running) but at least it was a show that caught its times when Aids was still cutting a swathe through the city.


And the sudden death of Larson, who was responsible for music, book and lyrics, after the dress rehearsal of the musical he had laboured on for so long, ensured that this already sentimental show achieved a posthumous aura of sanctity.

But this clinical, cynical, underpowered revival makes its shortcomings all too apparent. The characterisation is feeble, there is no momentum in the plot in which characters, many of them suffering from Aids, drug addiction and in Mimi’s case both, meet, fall in love and die, and the lyrics are relentlessly trite.

“Who do you think you are/leaving me alone with my guitar?” complains one character. At another moment we are told that anywhere in the world would be “a pleasure cruise” in comparison with New York. I expect it is a thought that regularly comforts those enduring life in, say, Darfur, or Burma, “Well, at least we’re not in New York under wicked Mayor Giuliani in the 1990s.”

The things this show has going for it are gloopy love ballads and anthems of youthful solidarity that are likely to appeal to self-pitying adolescents.

But while the singing is strong, most of the acting is abysmal. There isn’t a spark of eroticism between Luke Evans’s perpetually dour Roger and Siobhan Donaghy’s wan, size-zero, Mimi.

And Denise Van Outen gives one of the most embarrassing turns I’ve ever seen as Maureen, bedecked in basque and fishnet tights and constantly thrusting her boobs, bum and crotch at the audience. I’m afraid my only response was a wan “act your age, dear” and a desperate desire to leave this ghastly production pronto.

Unfortunately it goes on, and on and on, offering cruel and unusual punishment to anyone burdened with a brain.


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The Stage

Rent

Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer-prize winning 1996 musical phenomenon Rent has had two previous West End outings, first when Michael Greif’s original New York staging transferred to the Shaftesbury in 1998 and then when Paul Kerryson’s touring production played two seasons at the Prince of Wales in 2001-2. But it has never been a sustained success here, even though the original production is still running on Broadway. So will it prove third time lucky for the show as it now returns in a “remixed” version that marks it out not so much as a revival as a revisal?

Pop stylist and creative director William Baker turned debutant theatre director has taken a flawed show and turned it into a floor show: he has removed the grunge and grit and replaced it with the glossy sheen of magazine-supplement stylishness. The pervasive aesthetic of Mark Bailey’s two-tier set (upper level entirely obscured from the rear stalls) is of a minimalist white room.
It’s an approach that removes the specifics of time and place that informed Rent, originally set among bohemian New Yorkers living on the edge in downtown mid-nineties Manhattan, and seeks to universalise it. Three Brits are now among them, but just as the danger has largely gone out of New York itself, so has the sense of danger of this show. The all-pervasive precariousness of lives being led in the shadow of the HIV virus is also now, in the age of combination therapies, not quite the same either, though the production nods towards its casualties in a shamelessly manipulative dot-matrix roll-call of those who died thanks to it.

Instead the show becomes, paradoxically, a jaunty cabaret celebration of life. Though it’s still a fault of the writing to fail to delineate relationships clearly enough, it is not helped by a production here that is all show and no tell. Even Larson’s punchy songs have been re-ordered and re-orchestrated, so there were times when I felt I was back at the Pet Shop Boys musical Closer to Heaven with the pulsing electronic beats that have been put into them.

But even if this production has amplified, in every sense, some of the problems of the show, it has also given it the hands-down (and up) sexiest cast in London, who go to town with shameless attack. Former Sugababe Siobhan Donaghy brings an appealing combination of vulnerability and vocal strength in her theatrical debut as Mimi, who falls in love with Luke Evans’ soulful Roger. Leon Lopez’s Collins and Jay Webb’s Angel make another sassy, sexy coupling and Denise Van Outen steals the show with her strapping appearance as Maureen
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evening Standard 3/5

Rent, Jonathan Larson's ground-breaking, Aids-related musical, with its straight, gay, lesbian and drug-addict lovers has run on Broadway since 1997. It is now given a strangely disappointing makeover or remix by director William Baker.

Gallery: opening night pictures

The best of Larson's songs, those extraordinary, poignant laments in which young Nineties Americans faced up to the terrible decline and fall of Aids, worked their magic last night, thanks to Steve Anderson's musical rearrangements for a powerful just four-strong orchestra. They keep much of their power, passion and musical glory. I can think of no musical whose lyrics so startle with their youthful despair - "How do you measure your last year on earth" - or songs as desolate as Without You to which Siobhan Donaghy's thin, seductive waif of a Mimi gives lovely voice.

Baker's tinkering, though, achieves more of a weird mix-up than an illuminating stir. His production is proud to be a Nineties period-piece, when contracting HIV was akin to a death sentence, but the neon ticker-tape detailing the names of the famous Aids dead, from Rudolf Nureyev to Rock Hudson, suggests the action is happening today. The chronic thinness of a plot that goes nowhere much, the lack of a narrative about Aids, the dearth of protest about the way in which many HIV-afflicted Americans suffered, now seem huge omissions on Larson's part.

Designer Mark Bailey places the musical in a far too stylish, steel and aluminium environment, with white-washed walls and elegant, laddered stairs. This is the world of hyper-expensive Manhattan. It is also up these stairs that Jay Webb's gay Angel, freshly attached to Leon Lopez's sturdy Collins, climbs after dying, as if a Manhattan loft preposterously led straight to paradise.

In comparable tone, when Miss Donaghy's delicate Mimi, an HIV heroin addict, comes down from her apartment to Luke Evans's handsome but wooden Roger in search of a light for her candle, you are struck by how well-to-do they seem. Larson wanted nothing like this. His original, dazzling idea was to recreate the world of Puccini's La Boheme, with its impoverished young artists and heroine, dying of tuberculosis, in some Nineties Manhattan equivalent, where HIV rather than TB is what people feared most. Baker's Rent-resisting bohemians are not so much drop-outs as chic society people, observed by Oliver Thornton's bland narrator.

The love-affair that flickers and flares into life between Mimi and Roger is the musical's centre of attention. Both Miss Donaghy and the cute Evans are vocally impressive but the anger and intensity that earlier actors brought to these roles goes missing. At least Baker improves upon Larson's original in which the swooning, dying Mimi miraculously recovers consciousness. Here in Roger's arms she looks suitably moribund, a condition to which Denise Van Outen's as the lesbian Maureen strutting her musical stuff is a jubilant antidote. Enjoy Rent Remixed for its exquisite songs, not its vacuous story.


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Can't say I'm really surprised. I'll be giving this one a miss, as I said I'd wait for the reviews. Looks like I should start saving for NY.
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Broadway World

When Jonathon Larson conceived his ground-breaking musical Rent, he set out to create a serious piece of musical theatre with a rock score. So director William Baker and musical supervisor Steve Anderson’s decision to “remix” what has become a revered rock cult classic musical might appear to some to be an ill-conceived travesty. Or is it, others might argue, anymore of a travesty than was Larson’s original idea to re-work Puccini’s operatic masterpiece La Boheme as a rock musical? So perhaps it was more brave and daring than foolhardy to try to bring something new to Larson’s piece, to create an altogether new theatrical experience rather than re-hash the Broadway and previous West End productions. Unfortunately, despite some quite lavish new orchestrations and some great vocal performances, it does not totally work.

Rent, which first began its development by composer/lyricist Jonathon Larson and playwright Billy Aaronson back in 1989, looks at a microcosm of characters - straight, gay, transgender - from New York street society, all struggling to get by and many living with the reality of HIV/AIDS. The musical, which won a Pulitzer prize for Drama as well as Tony Awards for Best Score, Best Book and Best Musical, is a tale of heartbreak and tragedy but also an uplifting examination of a world where people must live for the moment - “No day but today.”

In trying to weave together the story of a number of diverse characters, Larson’s libretto has always been somewhat disjointed and confused with many of the characters loosely defined - and the production at the Duke of York’s does not do anything to solve these problems. In addition, some of the songs in this production are too softly textured to achieve the emotional impact they require. Yet, still the strength of the material shines through right from the first few moments as the wonderful ensemble cast chant the haunting lines “Will I Lose My Dignity?” before bursting into the glorious “Seasons Of Love”. For at the core of the production is Jonathon Larson’s brilliant score - including “One Song Glory”, “Another Day”, “Santa Fe”, “I’ll Cover You”, “Without You” and “Goodbye Love” - all now sounding in some ways more lush and melodious than ever.

The performances are generally excellent - apart from a miscast Siobhan Donaghy, who fails to do justice to her songs and lacks the sense of desperation and pathos to make a convincing Mimi. Denise Van Outen fares much better as Maureen - sexy, powerful and larger than life. But Francesca Jackson steals the thunder amongst the female cast. Oozing with sophistication and class as the accomplished attorney, Joanne (Maureen’s lover), she delivers her lyrics with dexterity and punch and at times her vocals are astonishing.

Amongst the men, Leon Lopez gives a sympathetic portrayal as down and out gay academic, Tom Collins, aided by his effective, husky vocals. Oliver Thornton perhaps lacks the cynicism needed to give erstwhile film-maker, Mark, the credibility the character needs - but his voice resonates beautifully through the theatre and he certainly serves members of the audience (both male and female judging by the nature of the show) with a large portion of eye-candy. The HIV positive songwriter, Roger, who lights Mimi’s candle in both metaphor and reality, is played by Luke Evans with an immense presence that allows him to move effortlessly back and forth from fragility to anger, from despair to hope. And when he sings he is nothing short of outstanding.

Many diehard “Rent-heads” will no doubt find the whole experience unsatisfying, even distasteful. And it is true that this production is far from perfect - but the original Broadway version is far from perfect. If one approaches this production with an open mind, despite its flaws Rent Remixed is a very enjoyable evening. All true lovers of the art of musical theatre should go to see the show with no pre-conceived hang-ups. After all, as the definitive lines from Larson’s lyrics state: “Forget regret or life is yours to miss.”
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LOL ....and SADM2 you put yourself thru this fiasco TWICE!
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"This deeply unwelcome revival..." I've been to a few of those!
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i have also seen a lot of Deeply unwelcome revivals but none as Fascinating or as Odd as this lol
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