Theatre review: Rent

It's hard to overstate the sheer inspiration behind Jonathan Larson's musical Rent, which opened in New York in 1996, on the day after Larson's sudden death at only 35, and on the 100th anniversary of the opera that inspired it, Puccini's La Boheme. In 1990s New York, harsh forms of gentrification were sweeping away whole communities of young artists who had found makeshift homes in the city and their lives were still being devastated by the AIDS epidemic.

Billy Cullum (centre) as Mark with the cast of RENT. Picture: Matt Crockett

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh ****

The parallels with Puccini’s opera were obvious, as was the poignancy of the story; and Larson’s powerful rock opera is still looking brilliant and timely today, as it rocks the stage at the Festival Theatre in Bruce Guthrie’s fierce and beautiful touring production.

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The songs are a touch variable, with not every number managing the lyrical beauty of Seasons Of Love, or the satirical force of Mark and Roger’s big duet, What You Own.

For this production, though, Guthrie has assembled a blazing cast led by Billy Cullum as Mark, Ross Hunter as Roger, and Philippa Stefani as a compelling, fragile Mimi. The ensemble support them with pride, skill and passion. And when Eurovision star Lucie Jones, as Maureen, makes her first storming appearance, with a wild piece of punk performance suggesting the only creative way out of this urban economy gone wrong is to make like a cow and jump over the moon, she speaks for our own time at least as much as for the loud and grungy 1990s. 
Final performances today.