Performance fizzes with life on an emotional musical ride

STRONG echoes of “West Side Story” came to mind as “Rent” burst into life.

Both feature urban America, both involve feisty young adults and both have strong music and lyrics. But it stops there.

In the former the mood was optimistic - living in America was everyone’s dream - but in “Rent”, presented at the Hippdrome Theatre, Todmorden, by Tomdorden Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society this week, the mood has darkened and New York in the 1980s has become a hellish world of poverty, homelessness, disease and drug addiction.

The dreams of an earlier generation have turned to despair and a desperate battle to survive - or not survive in some cases.

The action is set in the East Village of New York and was intended as an update of Puccini’s “La Boheme”. It examines the developing relationships between the main characters and how they sustain each other, or sometimes exploit each other, through whatever life throws at them.

There is drama aplenty especially through the music, impressive dance with adult overtones in keeping with the challenging themes of the drama.

Examination of the main characters tells its own story. Mark (David Barker) is a struggling Jewish documentary film maker, Roger (Martin Cook) is a struggling musician who is HIV positive and an ex-drug addict, Mimi (Alexandra Scott) is a club dancer, HIV positive and a drug addict, and Tom Collins (Rhys Roberts) is a gay anarchist with AIDS.

They support each other as best they can but even they can see it is a battle with no winners.

The gloom is offset by the vigour of the production. Energetic dancing is supported by skilled production, music and lighting.

Under musical director Helen Clarkson, the musicians took us through a wide range of emotions from the humour of the life support group to the tear-jerking coffin scene.

The production runs until April 16.