High Wycombe-born actress, Shanay Holmes, says she is “delighted” to return to the town as a professional theatre star as the popular musical, RENT, comes to the Wycombe Swan next week.

The new production, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical, comes to the High Wycombe theatre on St Mary Street on November 29.

The landmark musical tells the thrilling story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian excess.

Director, Bruce Guthrie, said the talented team behind the production wanted to “capture the essence of bohemian New York City at the height of the AIDS epidemic” and described it as a “place of grime and excitement, where voices are fighting to be heard and the inhabitants are fighting to connect with one another, as well as fighting for their lives.”

Shanay, who was born in High Wycombe but grew up in in Chalfont St Peter, stars as Joanne Jefferson, a character she feels she relates to and describes as “strong and fearless.”

She said: “Joanne is hugely career driven. She doesn’t care what people think about her. She is fiercely independent and incredibly ambitious.

“I wanted to be in this show since I first saw the film when I was little. Acting is something that chose me. It is something I have always naturally gravitated towards and my family saw that and encouraged me.

 “But it is not often that there is a role in a huge hit musical for people from a mixed race background.

“This is the first major role for a mixed race person in a West End musical and it really makes me feel like I have a place in musical theatre.”

RENT ran on Broadway for 12 years, from 1996 to 2008, before premiering in London’s West End in 1998 at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where it ran for 18 months. It was then adapted into a successful film in 2005.

Inspired by Puccini’s classic opera La bohème, RENT features unforgettable music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson including the much-loved songs Seasons of Love, Take Me or Leave Me and La Vie Bohème. 

Shanay learnt to sing in church, through choirs and trained in musical theatre performance at Amersham & Wycombe College for three years and the star’s favourite moment from the show is also a musical number.

She said: “My favourite part of the show that I always get emotional at is the I’ll Cover You Reprise which is performed at Angel’s funeral. It is very moving and really takes your breath away.”

The actress says the college has “followed my career since leaving school” and she is “really excited” to be returning to High Wycombe – this time as a professional.

She has already starred in a string of successful theatre shows, including Thriller Live, The Bodyguard and Close to You.  

She said: “I am delighted to be coming back home but this time in a lead role in a West End show. The main thing that the show does is give audiences an incredible message of true and unconditional love.

“I love that you get to share a part of your soul when you are on stage performing. You get to offer 1,000 people that you have never met before an intimate part of yourself.

“You can feel the energy come straight back at you from the audience and you can’t buy that feeling anywhere. It is an instant reaction and it is a remarkable feeling.”

The talented cast also features Ross Hunter, whose West End credits include We Will Rock You, Legally Blonde, Rock of Ages and The Book of Mormon, as Roger Davis and Billy Cullum, who starred in Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as Mark Cohen.

The cast of the musical has become incredibly close during their tour, according to the actress, which will see them continue to work together until at least May next year, with performances in Tunbridge Wells, Eastbourne and Cardiff already confirmed.

She said: “We are just like one big family. There is about 15 people in the cast so it is quite intimate but because of the nature of the show we have all bonded. We work like any other family and I think it needs that for this kind of show to work.”

RENT runs from Tuesday, November 29 to Saturday, December 3.

Tickets range from £18 to £34 and are already on sale from www.wycombeswan.co.uk or by calling the ticket office on 01494 512 000.