If you were, like me, deeply disappointed in the 2005 movie version of "Rent," then you'll be very happy to learn that the new filmed version, called "Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway," is infinitely better. It has its quirks and flaws, but on the whole, it's a thrilling document of a landmark show.
The film starts off a bit creaky, with the actors playing a bit too much to the cameras. Or perhaps that was just a sign of my need to get used to what is in fact a new medium: a "live" film of a Broadway musical being shown in a local movie theater. But, to me, it seemed that people were breaking character at first, as if to say, "Isn't it cool we're filming this!", and exhibiting an annoying "Yeah, man!" enthusiasm when they're singing songs about how miserable their lives are. For the most part, the filming didn't call attention to itself, allowing the power of the show to speak for itself.
But once the power of the piece kicked in, I was reminded of what a terrific show Rent is: the setting, the emotions, the relationships, the subtext. It's a rich and complexly executed show, performed with admirable restraint by the mostly strong final Broadway cast. I haven't seen the show in a few years, and as I sat watching the film, I was reminded that certain parts of Rent are incredibly well written, including the "" duet during " sequence. There's also some stuff that's hackneyed and lame, including "Happy New Year" and the almost unbearable scene after the funeral. ("You have to learn to love yourself," and all that crap. Yeesh.)
But the dynamic final cast somehow made even the lamest of lines work. In fact, some of them were even better than their original-cast counterparts. Particularly good were Will Chase (Roger), Adam Kantor (Mark), Mimi), and Angel). Chase brought more vocal and dramatic modulation to the part than Adam Pascal, and Johnston found much more humor in the role of Angel than I recall from Tony winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia.
I must begrudgingly admit that Eden Espinosa as Maureen was surprisingly effective. I've never been a fan of her particular brand of vocal histrionics, but she kept her excesses in check, and made for a effective foil to Tracie Thoms' likewise serviceable Joanne. Michael McElroy as Collins may have fallen victim to my heightened expectations. The second act reprise of "I'll Cover You" is one of the most moving moments in musical-theater history, but McElroy's rendition didn't really do it for me. Even so, I still found myself blubbering through most of the second act, overwhelmed by the sheer power of the story, the performers, and Jonathan Larson's kick-ass score.
"Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway" plays this Saturday and Sunday, September 27th and 28th, literally at a theater near you. No word yet on whether there are plans to release the film on DVD. But I'm sincerely hoping that they do.