Monday, May 17, 2010

Musical Mondays! RENT

First and foremost, Rent is a Broadway musical.  I was really excited when I heard they were bringing this Pulitzer-prize winning show to the big screen, but nervous because I wasn't sure how it would work.  Would they just do a filmed version on the stage, or actually make it a legitimate film.  They found a good middle ground, taking the elements of staging and movement from the stage, but incorporating elements that are only possible on film, such as dream sequences, memories, etc. while the music was going on.  Rent is a rock opera, which usually means all the dialogue is sung, between actual songs.  For the film, they took some of the dialogue-type music and made it a spoken rather than sung, though not for everything thank goodness or it would have lost some of the characteristic charm of the stage production. The biggest thrill for seeing the film is that they used nearly the entire original cast (Rosario Dawson replaced an actress who was pregnant, though possibly also for big-name status).

In case you missed this phenomenon in the late 90s, here's a sum up of the story.  Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal) are roommates on the lower east side of Manhattan called Alphabet City (the avenues in that section are no longer numbered like 5th Avenue, but become Avenue A, B, C, D) in 1989, Christmas Eve.  Roger has HIV and wants to write a song he'll be remembered for ("One Song, Glory"), and Mark is an aspiring documentary filmmaker.  Their former roommate Benny (Taye Diggs) wants to collect their rent since he just bought their building and some others ("Rent").  In exchange for deferred rent, he wants them to shut down a protest that's brewing against the neighborhood changes, organized by Mark's ex, drama queen Maureen (Idina Menzel).  Maureen's new girlfriend, Joanne (Tracie Thoms) can't get the sound equipment set up for the concert, and Mark shows up and they lament dating Maureen ("Tango Maureen").  Another former roommate, Collins (Jesse L. Martin) and his new "girlfriend" Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) - both HIV+ -  arrive to help out.  To get everyone out of the apartments, Benny cuts the power, and neighbor Mimi (Rosario Dawson) goes to ask Roger to help her ("Light My Candle" - my favorite song when I first saw it).  The protest goes off well ("Over the Moon") and Mark sells his footage of it to the news.  Roger and Mimi also realize they're both HIV+ and that they can make it work (.  The end of the first act is the best scene of the whole show "La Vie Boheme", where the whole group sings about the bohemian life they lead, open minded, with lots of cultural and pop references (here are the lyrics).  The movie then does a  bit of a good cheat, with music overlaying some fun images of the week between Christmas and New Year's.  The second act has more problems, with Angel getting sick and dying ("I'll cover you"), and Roger going away to write his song, and Mimi and Benny getting together, and Joanne and Maureen getting engaged (different from the play) and then breaking up ("Take Me or Leave Me").  Meanwhile, Mark has 'sold his soul' to take a job for a sleazy TV show, working for Sarah Silverman's Alexi Darling.  It's a really small part, but she brings a non-entity on stage to life well.  Even though it's a story about coming of age in a time of AIDS, poverty, violence, gay and straight, and all, it's still a Broadway musical, and things work out pretty well by the end.  The final song in the play is "Seasons of Love", but the movie puts it right at the beginning, and not as part of the movie, just all the characters standing in their own spotlights, in costume, on stage singing.  The music is revived at the end of the movie while they watch Mark's documentary about them all over the past year.   The movie does a good job bringing it to life a brilliant play and musical without losing the feel of the original work.  Also, having the original cast makes the voices really familiar if you're only familiar with the soundtrack.  I loved the play - I saw it my sophomore year of college on Broadway, then again my senior year, and once since college.  And I watch the movie now at least annually to be reminded of the overarching messages the music provides, which became the tagline for the film: "No Day But Today", meaning you never know what's going to claim you in the future, live for today.  Stage version 5+ of 5 stars, film 4.5 of 5 stars for it's originality at bringing a stage play to the screen.


David Bishop said...

Rent is based on on opera called La Boheme(which was also a huge influence on Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge!). I tend to prefer the opera to the broadway musical mostly because the music is so much more powerful to me.

Jess said...

Thanks David! I did vaguely recall that, but now I will definitely check it out.