Brief Encounter with ... Rent the Concert's Hannah Levane
Hannah Levane has stared in Flashdance, High School Musical and Sister Act. Next up is Rent the Concert. We talk about musicals, why Rent is considered a classic and much more.
What attracted you to Rent?
Rent has been a dream show of mine ever since it came to the West End back in 1998; it tied in with the same year I started at The BRIT School. I was obsessed, suddenly there was a modern adaptation of a classic story and human pain and love was being played out in such a raw way. Creatively it opened the doors for pop and rock music to have a valid voice in musical theatre.
What about Joanne? For anyone who doesn't know, tell us a bit about her.
Joanne is the everyman of the group, she represents the establishment, "the norm" if you like, yet lots about her is far from ordinary. She is a strong lesbian woman, out and proud, and is the boss of many around her. She is a suit-clad lawyer who likes to get her own way, but also uses her knowledge to help her friends out of sticky situations. Though a total control freak she has a huge heart and is in a wonderfully unlikely love affair with the wild child that is Maureen.
This is a concert but you don't just sing, do you?
Well technically Rent is a 'sung through' show anyway, so yeah we mainly sing, but we're not doing a cut-down version of the show, you'll be getting the whole story, never fear.
Why do you think the show is celebrated by so many as a brilliant musical?
Each character is loveable and flawed. Musically, as I mentioned before, it has a score based in rock roots and so is relatable to anyone even if they don't have musical theatre background or knowledge. The story is timeless, a group of friends struggling with life, the stakes are high but the themes of love and loss and integrity are all something we can relate too. It has it all.
Looking at the plot and themes, it seems risky today to produce with so many juke box shows or musicals based on movies.
To answer this question fully and honestly I'd have to open up a whole can of worms that we don't have time (or page space) for. However, I would say that one of the main themes of Rent is artistic integrity and what you should be willing to sacrifice for it and what we should be willing do to keep it alive. If Rent was a risk, then 20 years later it's clearly paid off. I say there should always be risks in producing new work. "Only the brave", as they say; new works should always be allowed to live. Those who turned Rent down over 20 years ago are kicking themselves.
There's room for all kinds of shows out there and I have faith that audiences want to see them, so bring it on, risks and all! "Forget regret or life is yours to miss" ... you asked for it!
You spend a great deal of time on the road. Is it enjoyable, as you must become like family?
It think most casts become like a family. I've actually not toured all that much, I'm definitely getting "too old" for it now really. It's a great way to see the country, but I'm a London girl and I don't like being away too much. Having said all that, Rent is one of those shows where it's worth the sacrifice, not that iI see it as that. It's a dream show, end of story reall ... I'd do it on the moon.
When Flashdance transferred to the West End following a tour, you must have been delighted. Why do you think the show didn't stay in London longer, despite some good reviews and audiences?
I was never involved in the tour of Flashdance, I was doing another show so I never even got the chance to see it on tour. But of course i was delighted to be involved in the production, working with some incredible people and getting to be part of a new creative process. The show's "failure" was purely financial and I'm no official spokesperson so I really can't comment. It was sad; a lot of people worked very hard and it was a labour of love for many of us. These things happen and you have to take the good bits with you and move on.
Are there any classic musicals you would love to be involved with or do you prefer seeking out new work?
I consider my first show a "classic"; it was Porgy and Bess and it had been one of my favourites since I was a child. Songs like "Summertime" and "Ain't Necessarily So" are true classics. I also come from a jazz background so it was a great show to be a part of. I adore new work and would love to focus on the creative rewards of putting a new show together for a while. There's something about singing songs no one has sung or heard before that is very special. Creating a character, making them come alive from the page for the first time is an amazing feeling.
Why do you think Rent continues to be performed all these years later?
It's a modern classic, its got a cult following and has inspired and paved the way for so many other shows of its kind. Audiences and creatives alike love this show.
What's your favourite song in the show and why?
"Christmas Bells"; it's the first time the plot comes together and parts of the story interlink musically in a wonderfully exciting and powerful scene that sounds as busy as it looks, everyone meets on the streets and it's bustling. Everything is set up so perfectly and for me it's one of the most special moments in the show.
What are your plans following the tour?
The day an actor can truly plan their lives is they day that they have control over every part of show business (i.e. never gonna happen). I quite like the not knowing. I have no idea what shows will even be getting put on next year let alone have any sway. I mean if you're talking magic wands then I'd do a brand new musical in the West End for a year then I'll play some gritty character in a six part drama on Channel 4, followed by Aida back in the West End (before I get too old) and then I may settle down and have some kids before a few Shakespeare in the park/Globe and then a Film or five, one of course being a period drama ... not that I've put any real thought into it or anything ...
Rent the Concert is at the Blackpool Opera House (11 November), The Palace Theatre - Manchester (29 November) & Liverpool Auditorium at Echo Arena (30 November).