Set in New York City's gritty East Village, the revolutionary rock opera RENT tells the story of a group of bohemians struggling to live and pay their rent. "Measuring their lives in love," these starving artists strive for success and acceptance while enduring the obstacles of poverty, illness and the AIDS epidemic. RENT is based on Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer and Tony Award winning musical, one of the longest running shows on Broadway. The raw and riveting musical stars Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp and Tracie Thoms and is directed by Chris Columbus.
, the show that in 1996 gave voice to a Broadway generation, has finally become an energetic, passionate, and touching movie musical. Based loosely on Puccini's La Bohème
, it focuses on the year in the life of a group of friends in New York's East Village--"bohemians" who live carefree lives of art, music, sex, and drugs. Well, carefree until Mark, an aspiring filmmaker (Anthony Rapp), and Roger, an aspiring songwriter (Adam Pascal), find out they owe a year's rent to Benny (Taye Diggs), a former friend who had promised them free residence when he married the landlord's daughter. Roger has also attracted the attention of his downstairs neighbor, Mimi (Rosario Dawson), while Mark's former girlfriend, Maureen (Idina Menzel), has found a new romance in a lawyer named Joanne (Tracie Thoms). Philosophy professor Tom (Jesse L. Martin) finds his soul mate in drag queen Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). But because this is the late-'80s, the threat of AIDS is always present.
The remarkable thing about Rent the movie is that nearly 10 years after the show debuted on Broadway, six of the eight principals return in the roles they originated. They're a bit older than would be ideal for their characters, but they do have the advantage of having learned the show directly from creator Jonathan Larson (who died of an aortic aneurysm while the show was in previews), plus they started young--we're not exactly talking Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford here. Alongside a polished performance like Rapp's--sometimes observer-commentator, sometimes participant in two of the score's showstoppers, "The Tango Maureen" and "La Vie Boheme"--the two new additions (Thoms in place of Fredi Walker, Dawson in place of the edgier Daphne Rubin-Vega) slip comfortably into the ensemble; the pivotal Dawson makes a seductive case as Mimi when she tempts Roger in the mesmerizing "Light My Candle" or burns up the stage of the Catscratch Club in "Out Tonight." Moviegoers who have an aversion to people who break into song while walking down the street probably won't have their minds changed by Rent (even if they are singing rock songs), and the gritty subject matter and lack of big-name stars make it unlikely to cross over to general audiences the way Chicago did. But fans of musicals should find "Seasons of Love" as stirring as ever, and the show's passionate admirers--the "Rentheads"--probably couldn't have wished for a more sympathetic director than Rent fan Chris Columbus, or a more faithful representation of the show they love. --David Horiuchi