They call this "Rent Remixed". I'd dub it "Rent Reduced", in that the late Jonathan Larson's reworking of La Bohème, while never a great musical, has been turned into a grisly, synthetic, pseudo pop concert with no particular roots or identity. It may be significant that the director, William Baker, and the music supervisor, Steve Anderson, are described as "the celebrated creative team behind Kylie".
Originally seen off Broadway in 1996, Rent was the Hair of its day: a tribal musical that offered a hymn to the suffering young on New York's Lower East Side, with characters who vaguely echoed Puccini's originals. Roger was a musical wannabee in love with Mimi, a show-dancing, HIV-positive heroin-addict. Meanwhile his mate Mark, an aspiring movie-maker, had been dumped by Maureen for a lesbian partner. Tom, an anarchic computer-buff, fell for a frisky drag-queen, Angel, who also expired prematurely. It wasn't great, but the original had a rough workshop spontaneity and provided a touching anthem to doomed American youth.
The plot and numbers have been retained in this new version but everything else has been senselessly jettisoned. The characters in Baker's updated version now inhabit a white-walled, perspex-screened, skeletal-doored world that shrieks Manhattan chic: if this is raffish Bohemian poverty, I wouldn't mind some of it. The songs, re-ochestrated for a four-piece orchestra, also never seem to stem from a precise social context, but become a series of discrete numbers. It is all as misguided as a recent attempt to yank Hair out of its 1960s world and treat it as a modern protest musical.
Even more dubiously, this production pays lip-service to the original's sincere attempt to depict a world in which Aids was all-pervasive. But, instead of focusing on Mimi's and Angel's condition, the show has a newsreel ticker-tape that catalogues some of the famous victims of Aids: Freddie Mercury, Derek Jarman, Kenny Everett and many more.
So what is one left with? Not much. Denise Van Outen, as the character who leads the protest against the eviction-process, struts her stuff like a parody Madonna, but I felt she was a nice girl trying to be raunchy. Siobhan Donaghy as Mimi also sings pleasantly and reveals a nifty pair of pins. Luke Evans and Oliver Thornton do what they can with the under-characterised Roger and Mark, and Jay Webb as the boyish drag-queen flounces appropriately. But the show is not so much a carbon-copy of the original as a reductive re-hash of a show that caught something of the flavour of 90s New York.