This is a part of The Stage to Screen Blogathon, hosted by The Rosebud Cinema and Rachel’s Theater Reviews . For more great reviews of theater production adaptations for the screen, be sure to visit their pages!
Music, Lyrics, and Book by Jonathan Larson.
Movie directed by Chris Columbus, screenplay by Stephen Chbosky.
Influenced by the opera La bohéme by Giacomo Puccini.
“When you’re living in America, at the end of the millennium….”
Rent deals with a group of friends living in New York City, dealing with life (and AIDs, addiction, sexuality, shifting relationships, loss, friendship…).
As is the case with nearly every musical I am a fan of, I was familiar with the music before I ever saw it staged (and by “familiar with” I mean “had the soundtrack memorized and had spent some amount of time playing it straight through while imagining the production in my head).
I remember being excited when I found out that Rent was being made into a movie – I hadn’t had the opportunity to see it on stage yet, and this was a chance to see what it was supposed to be staged like. Not just my imagined reality.
Musicals (especially modern musicals) that are made into movies face multiple challenges. Not only are they dealing with expectations that are carried from the staged productions, but they also have to deal with the music. People may see a show on stage and like something about it, but with musicals they can listen to the soundtrack over and over again, learning the particular musical articulations (and voice) of one performer. So when the cast is put together for a movie version those voices are going to be compared to the ones that the viewer is so very familiar with. You go into it wondering, “How can they possibly live up to…?”
The movie version of Rent avoided this challenge (for me at least) because nearly all of the original stars of the show returned to their roles for the music, allowing for happy voice-continuity.
There were some musical decisions that were made in the movie that I didn’t particularly care for. There are some changes that I accept, or that don’t jar me, but others are hard to accept. One example is the removal of certain lines or themes: such as in the song “Rent,” where Joanne and Maureen’s conversation is cut from the song completely. Though there is no line in the movie, my mind instantly fills that musical space with “The digital delay didn’t blow up, exactly….”
I also couldn’t understand why certain exchanges were turned to spoken, rather than sung. It just steps out and, for the most part, I expect a different kind of dialogue from spoken words than sung. While some conversations sound just fine when set to music, they sound stiff and fake when the music is removed.
When I finally was able to see Rent on the stage, I was somewhat impressed with the ways that the movie had paid homage to the stage production, such as the repeated use of a table as a central prop. In the stage production this is a way to keep a bare-bones set, in the movie there is more extravagant staging, but the table… this one simple item… remains a consistent theme.
I appreciated the little things that can be done in the movie that couldn’t be done the same on the stage, flash-backs, some of the scenery, and the facial expressions and occasional quiet lines that would more likely get drowned after a large song (such as Maureen’s Mom’s line following “Take Me or Leave Me”).
I know that there are mixed responses to this movie, but I find it a nice addition to the ways one can experience this story.