Southampton Musical Society’s production of Jonathan Larson’s Rent Is set in New York and tells the story of a year in the lives of a group of friends who are sqatting in an abandoned building. The decisions they have to face and the choices they make are likely to shape the rest of their lives and they anguish over them while trying to live a life free from responsibilities.
The set is fantastic, and on many different levels is used effectively to represent a myriad of locations from the space where our protagonists live; a church, a bar and various streets and other outdoor locations. The lighting is equally strong and represents the mood and feeling of the music well. Unfortunately there are a couple of dark spots and at times an actor will drift into them but not often.
Direction and choreography by Dawn Broomfield is excellent; pace is high and the dancing is full of energy. All of the cast look like they’re having fun and the emotional sense of the songs is clearly presented.
The acting is generally of a high standard. Jim Smith, as Roger Davis plays the love-struck wannabe musician, full of angst and choosing to hide the fact he’s HIV-positive from the woman of his dreams. He generally hits the right tone but his “No” at the apparent loss of his girlfriend slightly reminds me of Darth Vader’s “Noooo” at the end of Revenge of the Sith, coming across without a real sense of despair.
Sam Gregory, as Mark Cohen, plays the arty photographer well coming across as a young Woody Allen complete with an overprotective, overly attentive stereotypical Jewish mother. Sam largely serves as the link between the audience and the players and keeps the story flowing. Liam Baker as Tom Collins, a nerdy computer programmer with a drug problem, is always watchable. He comes across as dark and brooding, he lightens up and starts to embrace life when he finds love with transvestite Angel Dumott Schunard, played by Gerson Sunggay, who is always a delight to watch. Their relationship though ultimately tragic is portrayed very well and is believable and emotional. Vikki -Jo-Keens as Mimi Marquez strikes a great balance between being both vulnerable and manipulative, starting out as a junkie looking for a fix and then finding love. Her arc is the emotional hit for the piece.
The rest of the cast all do very well, but……….
The big problem I have with this production is the sound mix! You can’t always clearly hear the song lyrics and in this style of production when the whole show is sung, this is a problem. It’s difficult to follow the story and you don’t emotionally engage with the characters. I know it’s not down to the cast's abilty because there are some quieter moments when you can hear them and the live music is great too, well-played and in-tune. It’s just the overall sound mix doesn’t work for me. At times it felt as though I was watching an interpretive dance show, a dance, a change of lights, a change of lights, a dance etc, etc.
The sound mix is a shame as visually this production looks great, well lit, great set and with good choreography. If only I could hear the words clearly.