Rent : School Edition
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Wednesday 11th July
Jonathan Larson's controversial 90s musical Rent is an interesting choice for a theatre school of youngsters from age 11 to 18 to tackle. Firstly, being a sung-through rock musical it is a challenge artistically, with some complex songs and multi-layered harmonies. Also, despite the School Edition having toned down some of the language and displays of affection of the original, with a plot containing poverty, drugs, homelessness, anarchy, male and female homosexual relationships, cross-dressing and AIDS, it will have been an eye-opening study for the cast too.
Tomorrow's Talent have certainly got some exceptionally able students among their ranks, and this one night production gave them ample opportunity to shine. The long show whipped by with constant high levels of energy and simple staging allowing scenes to flow quickly. The stage was packed in the ensemble pieces, and each member of the company performed with style and power in some impressive group numbers.
The cast of principals exuded confidence and presence without exception. Sam Toland's rock guitarist Roger and Tara Divina's drug taking dancer Mimi were both strong performances, suiting the rock music well. Their voices blended beautifully without losing power and they developed a believable and touching relationship. Lesbian couple Maureen (Ashton Reed) and Joanne (Deanna Byron), both gave controlled portrayals together and separately, with Maureen's protest performance "Over the Moon" being played with real earnest. Ollie Fox overcame some initial microphone problems with professionalism and gave a smooth performance as Collins, with heartfelt emotion during Angel's demise. Drag Queen Angel was memorably portrayed by Bart Lambert in a sensitive interpretation of a lovable character. Resisting any temptation to over-do it and descend into cliché, this was a subtle, intelligent and comfortable performance. It was however Luke Higgins' Mark, the filmmaker and all round nice guy, who carried the show. A performer in every sense, acting and reacting even when not in the focus of the scene, maintaining a strong, absorbed characterisation throughout but not compromising on a controlled vocal performance too, this was an accomplishment of all-round skill.
Gavin Wilkinson, principal of the school and director of the show, certainly knows how to get the best out of these talented young people. From the smallest ensemble member to each of the principal cast, the company maintained high levels of professionalism and energy, and their teacher seemed justly proud of their achievement. An entirely different but equally demanding challenge faces the school next year with the legendary show Miss Saigon - the heat is on.