'Spellbinding performances' in St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of Rent

St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of RENT at the Roman Theatre Festival.

St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of RENT at the Roman Theatre Festival. - Credit: Martin Smith / Origin8Photography.

Madeleine Burton reviews St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of RENT at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium.

Spellbinding performances, powerful singing voices, riveting choreography, all backed by an accomplished live orchestra.

That is what audiences have come to expect from St Albans Musical Theatre Company (SAMTC) and anyone who goes to see Rent at the Roman Theatre Open Air Festival this week will not be disappointed.

St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of RENT at the Roman Theatre Festival.

St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of RENT at the Roman Theatre Festival. - Credit: Martin Smith / Origin8Photography.

A parable of young people living in Manhattan’s East Village when Aids/HIV was at its peak, Rent is a stunning departure from most previous SAMTC shows.

For this is a rock opera with the language, gestures and –sadly – deaths of its time with emotive undertones that show its debt to La bohème.

But while the Puccini opera primarily focuses on the love affair between Mimi and Rodolfo, Rent takes a wider bohemian remit with any number of young people facing life in the shadow of the Aids scourge.

And it does not shy away from illustrating how Aids came to be known as the gay plague.

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It has its own Mimi and in this case Roger – beautifully portrayed by Kaiah Summers and Michael Wiseman – and their combined voices in Without You with the support of other members of the company is particularly special.

St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of RENT at the Roman Theatre Festival.

St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of RENT at the Roman Theatre Festival. - Credit: Martin Smith / Origin8Photography.

There are also other love stories, including that between Angel, played by Duncan Kennedy, and Tom Collins as portrayed by Ryan Hughes.

These two give some of the most memorable performances in the show, particularly when Collins joins forces with Angel in his/her Santa Claus outfit to sing the catchy song I’ll Cover You.

But for sheer poignancy nothing can beat Goodbye Love sung by Collins and other members of the cast. It is a real tearjerker.

Another highlight is Christine Wakeley demonstrating her fabulous voice as the soloist in Seasons of Love and for comic effect Katie Garnett as Maureen shines with her hilarious Over the Moon.

Rent is nearly all sung so musical director Emma Barry and her four-strong band are kept pretty busy but never seem fazed by the responsibility.

St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of RENT at the Roman Theatre Festival.

St Albans Musical Theatre Company's production of RENT at the Roman Theatre Festival. - Credit: Martin Smith / Origin8Photography.

And I have nothing but admiration for director and choreographer Elise Betts. As well as a huge amount of skill to stage the show in the outdoors, she had schooled her performers brilliantly in all aspects of musical theatre.

It was no surprise to find she also directed the memorable The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Abbey Theatre last November. Elise is definitely a director who is going places.

RENT, a Tony Award-winner written by Jonathan Larson, runs until Sunday, June 26, and tickets can be obtained from www.ovo.org.uk