Review: Rent Remixed, Duke of York’s

Many a musical has received a facelift, but none quite so dramatic or misguided as Rent Remixed, setting up shop at the Duke of York’s. William Baker (director) and Steve Anderson (musical arranger) are perhaps better known as part of the creative team behind Kylie Minogue but are responsible here for reinterpreting Jonathan Larson’s much loved Rent for a younger generation.

The original itself is a rough reworking of La Bohème, celebrating the lives of a group of sexually ambiguous, bohemian New Yorkers, eking out a living on the breadline and devastated by the arrival of HIV and AIDS. And whilst this is ostensibly the same show, the process of ‘remixing’ has ended up with curious results.

The changes seem to strip out much of what was genuine about the show in the first place: the grungy squalor has been replaced with moody minimalist loft apartments, the costumes look shiny and impressive but not at all indicative of the poverty-stricken life of which they frequently sing. The large tickertape display looks gimmicky. Crucially though, the musical reinterpretations, reduced to a four man band, have lost any organic connection to the material or indeed each other: it plays a set of individual songs rather than a cohesive musical, giving it the odd sensation of being trapped in some bizarre tribute concert.

Denise Van Outen does her best as lesbian performance artist Maureen with a highly energetic turn but it is often so over-the-top ‘provocative’ that one had to avert one’s eyes to avoid a serious fit of the giggles from overtaking me completely. Siobhán Donaghy (former Sugababe member) is not bad as Mimi, but her performance doesn’t seem to stray far from her pop persona. ‘Without You’ is completely different in her hands as is ‘Out Tonight’ which becomes a burlesque number but it always feels like her performing rather than acting, maybe this will come in time if she continues to act onstage, who knows. Others on the stage who are actually trained actors should know better, there’s some shocking stuff here and I ended up cringing most of the way through the show. Luke Evans and Francesca Jackson were the only two who I can think of anything vaguely positive to say.

I can’t see what the appeal of this would be anyone to be frank. Fans of Rent will be appalled at what has been done to their show; fans of any of the actors will have their dreams shattered; anyone who has ever been affected by any of the issues in here will be shocked at the trite way with which they are dealt and the sheer absence of any attempt at gritty realism. It is a show that is so firmly rooted in its time that the attempts at modernisation fall flat and in any case are clumsily executed (Prozac does not rhyme with Xanax!) Ultimately, just avoid this show, you will only be disappointed.

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