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Rent the musical may start off as a bunch of bohemian friends struggling to make ends meet, but beneath it all, it’s truly a human story about love, loss, and life.
Based on a 1896 play called La Boheme, Rent is not only Jonathan Larson’s sole work, but his life’s legacy.
The musical Rent has been around as long as I have, since 1996. However, the musical didn’t come into my life until the film version was made in 2005. The film version has 6 of the 8 principles from Broadway with only the Mimi and Joanne characters being recast.
The film, for the most part, is faithful to the play, with only the removal of one song (Contact), and much of the narration from the script was turned into dialogue. Rent begins on Christmas Eve 1989, with filmmaker Mark (Anthony Rapp) and his best friend, musician Roger (Adam Pascal) struggling to light and heat their apartment. Mark is getting over his ex-girlfriend, Maureen (Idina Menzel) leaving him for a lawyer, Joanne (Tracie Thoms), while Roger is coming off of half a year’s withdrawal. Roger is also struggling with his HIV positive diagnosis, and the death of his girlfriend, April. Meanwhile the guys pal, college teacher, Tom Collins (Jesse L Martin) is back in town and their landlord/ former friend, Benny (Taye Diggs) is about to turn of their power, demanding they pay last year’s rent after letting them slide.
On the way to the apartment, Collins is beat down, only to be helped back on his feet by street drummer and drag queen Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). Its also on this Christmas Eve, Roger meets his neighbor, exotic dancer Mimi (Rosario Dawson), who like him (and also Angel and Collins) is HIV positive.
From here on out, the narrative follows the group of friends for a year in their life.
The film itself is very long for a musical movie, over 2 hours, but in reality it goes extremely fast due to its soundtrack. Some songs flow straight into each other, such as One Song Glory going into Light My Candle.
I have fond memories of just listening to the soundtrack in the car over and over again as we drove from my hometown in IL to Hammond, IN where my grandparents lived. My family and I would go over every weekend, and we practiced that routine for two years from 2005-2007. Needless to say I learned the soundtrack really quickly. I sang along in my head to all the tunes- even if maybe the lyrics weren’t suited for a 9-11 year old. My favorite song was most certainly “What You Own”, and Adam Pascal’s heartfelt “One Song Glory”. In fact, all because of Adam Pascal’s voice I developed a crush on him. I didn’t even know what he physically looked like, I just knew I had a crush on him regardless. When I finally saw his picture in a Rent book, I was a bit shocked at his appearance, but I didn’t care, I was just happy to match his voice to his face.
I find it to be a striking parallel Rent came into my life at a time of personal loss. My Grandma unexpectedly passed away at the end of 2005, and all of a sudden, the constant soundtrack in my life were songs about “measuring life in love” and living life without specific people in it. Looking back I can say the soundtrack was certainly part of the healing process, and perfectly captured what I and my family were feeling.
Today I feel the Rent soundtrack is very much embedded in my soundtrack of life. I think it’s got the catchiest songs and once they enter your life, they don’t leave your life. Rent will forever be a relatable and emphatical story because it’s a human story with universal appeal.
Especially in today’s new world, its crucial to keep in mind the values Rent teaches us: no day but today