Many had accused the previous West End premiere production of being too heavy on the angst and doldrums, with the story's focus on drug abuse, HIV and Aids, poverty and death. But while these topics are certainly not light material, director Paul Kerryson has ensured this time that the characters remain likeable and convincing, leaving their humanity paramount.
The show, based on La Boheme, tells of a group of friends living in New York's East Village just before Christmas. Mark (Rickett) and Roger, (Damien Flood, last seen fronting the fictitious pop group in Boyband), cannot pay the rent to a former room-mate who now owns their building. Mark is making a film about a year in the life of his friends, and Roger is struggling to overcome depression about his HIV status, until he meets dancer Mimi (Debbie Kurup). Through a collection of short scenes and songs, we meet the pair's friends, including transvestite Angel and his boyfriend Collins, played by the super-voiced Mykal Rand.
Of course, Rent achieved cult status when it opened in New York, partly due to the tragedy of the show's real-life story; writer Jonathan Larson died of an aneurysm only a few days before opening night, and never got to see the success of his work.
What remains is an interesting yet not flawless piece. Lyrics range from brilliant to banal, songs from seriously catchy to simply repetitive; one suspects that a certain amount of tweaking and fine-tuning would have occurred had Larson lived to see the show progress and develop.
In this new production at least, the cast of 15 pack powerful voices into distinctive characters. Rickitt looks a little too preppy for my liking but copes well with the vocal demands of the show, and Flood gives a pleasing performance.
Act Two's opening number "Seasons of Love" is still the real showstopper, but regional audiences have been going wild for everything about this grown-up, contemporary show. While it may not quite be the case that there ain't nothin' goin' on but the Rent, it's certainly due for a visit.