First things first. Nothing will ever compare to the experience of seeing RENT live on stage. If you were lucky enough to see the revolutionary musical at the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway or on tour (I’ve seen it five times), you’ll know what I mean. However, this DVD experience, especially on a large-flatscreen TV, comes pretty close.
This IS the movie that RENT-heads will wish was released before the feature film with original Broadway cast members in 2005. Sadly that film lacked the thrill and raw emotion of witnessing the creation of a live performance that made RENT so special. This DVD captures it completely, and will hold a special meaning for fans as it was filmed prior to the show’s closing in September of 2008.
RENT tells the story of a small group of friends living in New York’s East Village and parallels the iconic opera La bohème. The group includes aspiring musician Roger (Will Chase), his roommate would-be filmmaker Mark (Adam Kantor), their neighbor the exotic dancer Mimi (the talented Reneé Elise Goldsberry), Mark’s ex-girlfriend and performance artist Maureen (Eden Espinosa) and her new uptight lawyer girlfriend Joanne (Tracie Thoms, who also played the role in the feature film), their friend Tom “Collins” (Michael McElroy) and his drag-queen boyfriend Angel (played by the electric Justin Johnston), and former friend and sell-out Benny (original Broadway cast member Rodney Hicks). We watch the intimate journey as they struggle to live and pay rent while confronting poverty, addiction, illness and the AIDS epidemic through a single year.
There is an energy that radiates from RENT as the talented performers connect to one another (and the audience) through the rocking music and haunting lyrics of the late Jonathan Larson. Since it was filmed live there is a genuine spontaneity and freshness to the production. The film allows you to witness the real emotions of the actors up-close from the stage and the wings of the theatre, places you wouldn’t see from the vantage point of an audience member. Watching RENT, it is easy to see why it won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the Pulitzer Prize and played to audiences for 12 years.
Fans will love the bonus extras, including an emotional retrospective documentary on RENT‘s final days on Broadway featuring touching backstage interviews with cast and crew; the final curtain call with members of the past and present cast singing “Seasons of Love”; a rare look at the famous backstage wall autographed by celebs; and the final lottery in which hundreds of fans turn out to have the chance to purchase $20 tickets in the front two rows of the theatre for the last show.
RENT may not be living on Broadway, but it will continue to live on in this historic and special DVD. Jonathan Larson would be so proud.