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VIDEO: Celebrate the 20th anniversary of Rent The Musical

Actors and musicians often miss their family when they are on tour.

In Billy Cullum’s case, it is his cocker spaniel Alfie and Digby the cockapoo who are left behind at home.


Billy has a two-week limit of working away before he misses them too much. And then there is his dedicated dad who even drove him to rehearsals.

Billy Cullum is travelling around the UK as part of the tour for Rent – The Musical. The show is a rock musical which depicts the lives of several characters as they struggle with sexuality, drugs and money.

The show opens with the character Mark Cohen as he begins a new documentary. Mark and his roommate Roger Davis are threatened with eviction from their old friend, Benny. Billy plays Mark Cohen, who is the narrator of the musical.

“Mark is an aspiring filmmaker who does a lot by himself. He sits back on his emotions but unravels at the end,” said Billy of his character.

“The other characters are quite out there in a positive way with a bohemian nature. Mark is not naturally bohemian but wants to be. At the end he realises himself.”

Billy has starred in Matilda the Musical, Jesus Christ Superstar and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in recent years. He has also been part of several YMT productions, including Great Expectations in 2008 which was performed as part of Aberdeen’s International Youth Festival.


“Mark is a part I have always wanted to play,” said Billy.

“I used to sing along to Mark in my room but when I got the part I hadn’t listened to him in many years.”

Joining Billy in Rent are stars from the stage. Ross Hunter has credits to his name including We Will Rock You and The Book of Mormon, while Ryan O’Gorman has risen to the heights of Les Miserables, Billy Elliot and Phantom of the Opera, while Layton Williams also has Billy Elliot under his belt.

“Oh my gosh – the cast are incredible,” said Billy of his new work colleagues.

Shanay Holmes is a singer and songwriter who starred in the stage version of The Bodyguard, Philippa Stefani has done Ghost the Musical and Lucie Jones is an X Factor finalist. With a cast of such amazing credentials the show has huge promise, and that is without even looking at the set the creative team have designed.

This production of Rent is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the musical. It includes musical numbers such as Billy’s favourite, Today 4 U. The character Mark has many musical numbers in the show and it’s a lively atmosphere on the stage during the performances. When we spoke, Billy had not long come off stage and he was still excited from the atmosphere.


“In every show, the audience has shot to its feet. It has kicked off a riot and it is amazing to get that reaction,” he said.

The glory comes after weeks of intense rehearsals in London which included discussing costumes from the very first day.

The actors had meetings with the teams involved in creating the bright costumes which reflect the East Village of New York City in 1989 and 1990.

The actors saw sketches and were able to have their own opinion on the designs for the costumes. Billy has gone for something slightly different for his character, aiming more towards an “80’s film director or something from The Breakfast Club”.

The award-winning musical from Jonathan Larson was inspired by Puccini’s opera La Boheme and ran on Broadway for 12 years from 1996. Jonathan wrote about a world of artists struggling in a dangerous world, but died the night before the show’s first off-Broadway performance in 1996. Since then, the show has run in the west end and was made into a film in 2005.

“For my birthday, we will be at the Cardiff Millennium Centre.

“I can’t wait to tour. There are so many venues I haven’t been to,” said Billy.

Rent is at Aberdeen’s HMT from November 15 to 19. See