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New Rent, New York, it's a helluva show

Rent, Belgrade Theatre, until May 13

The sensational rock opera Rent hit the stage at The Belgrade this week - and hit is the operative word as the cast of sixteen, plus five musicians, set about winning the hearts, minds and boundless applause of the audience on Tuesday night.

The show may be 20 years old but it still packs such a contemporary punch from riotous numbers like Over The Moon - belted out by Christina Modestou - to the tender I Will Cover You, and the unforgettable Seasons of Love with its poignant refrain "Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes..."

Directed by Bruce Guthrie this new anniversary production stays true to the updated story, music and lyrics created by Jonathan Larson, who worked as a waiter in a New York restaurant and lived in a similar bohemian tenement in the days before they became fashionable.

Also in the days when to be HIV positive was not quite the something "I Should Tell You" sung by Mimi (Philippa Stefani) in her touching duet with Roger (played on Tuesday by Josh Dever).

These two are the closest to the classic Puccini characters in the opera La Boheme, which Larson used as his inspiration for Rent.

But forget Puccini. This is very much Larson's world and his commentary on where we're at, as heard in the words of his character, Mark (Billy Cullum), who asks: "How can you document real life when real life's getting more like fiction each day?"

Tragically, Larson himself died in 1996, the day before what was to become his smash-hit award-winning show first opened in a theatre off Broadway.

I loved the tenement recreated on the Belgrade's stage which offered so many opportunities for this high-energy cast to precariously lean, dangle and climb as they sang. Meanwhile down below we have the squalid New York street scene with his beggars, thugs, and flashing "Walk, Don't Walk" illuminated sign.

Ryan O'Gorman, who plays Collins, has a remarkable voice and his love songs with Angel (Layton Williams} are unforgettable.

And then there's Angel himself/herself.

You just can't take your eyes off Layton, who is not only a terrific dancer,singer and acrobat but...simply breathtaking.

Not since Hair transferred from Broadway in the 1960s has there been a show like this. And back then the actors then had to take all their clothes off to get this much attention.

Nobody in Rent needs to do anything more than they're doing right now - except smile as they receive the next standing ovation.

You might be lucky to get a ticket. But I certainly recommend you try.

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