"Rent" opens today in theaters nationwide
This is the first movie adaptation of the groundbreaking 1996 musical, which many say began a social dialogue of then-taboo issues such as AIDS, drug addiction and homosexuality.
Set in New York City's East Village, "Rent" explores the lives of eight bohemian, artistic friends who fall in love, struggle to survive in poverty and battle illness.
"It tries to provoke the greater tolerance in general for all groups in society, especially those that have been looked on in disfavor in the past, simply by offering a powerful dramatization through music of attitudes that were already in circulation," said Sam Goldstein, an English professor at Daytona Beach Community College.
"Rent," the Broadway musical
"Rent" was written by Jonathan Larson in 1996.
It won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for drama and four Tony Awards, among others.
"Rent" is the eighth longest-running show in Broadway history.
Productions have been staged around the world.
"Rent," the film
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Screenplay by: Steve Chbosky
Running time: 135 minutes
Goldstein has acted in or directed about 70 off-Broadway adaptations.
"The musical is powerful and humanistic. It should make for an extremely vivid picture," Goldstein added.
The story is inspired by Giacomo Puccini's 1896 opera "La Boheme" and is a modern-day telling of the opera's story. The film will feature six of the original Broadway cast members.
"That added to its power and impact on present-day audiences, that it was able to draw on Puccini's opera for plot and humanist perspective," Goldstein said. "Many of the people who saw it on Broadway had been exposed to the opera. There's an added significance to that."
The play was created by Jonathan Larson, whose goal was to create characters an audience could relate to. But he would not live to see them Larson died after an aortic aneurysm the night before the play's first preview.
One character, Roger, is an aspiring songwriter whose last girlfriend committed suicide. He's attracted to his downstairs neighbor Mimi, an exotic dancer. Roger's roommate Mark is a filmmaker who struggles between creating art for art's sake and making money. Mark's ex-girlfriend Maureen, a performance artist, left him for Joanne, a lawyer. The group's friend Tom is a professor of philosophy, who is saved from a mugging by his optimistic soul mate, Angel. Another friend, Benny, breaks away from the group after marrying the landlord's daughter. He could estrange relations further when he threatens his friends with eviction from the rent-free digs he promised them.
"'Rent' appeals to a college crowd because of the ages of the characters, because of the situation of the 'lost' aspect, of what we want to do with our lives," said MSU theatre Assistant Professor Rob Roznowski. "That's what college is really about, and the show really encapsulates that confusion."
Roznowski said time will be a factor in the story's translation from stage to screen almost 10 years after it's release.
"It's interesting to see if it's still relevant," Roznowski said. "It was such a piece of the time, so relevant, so interesting. I'm wondering if it's become dated."
Nicolle Stec, health educator at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Olin Health Center said making the musical into a film broadens the distribution a benefit because it exposes the topics to a wider audience.
"Anytime that someone broaches a stigmatized topic and makes it more mainstream, in terms of increasing people's ability to talk about something, that has a potentially positive effect on impacting the community," Stec said. "Any type of outreach we can do that gives accurate and correct information, that is a great way to reach different people."
Those who have only heard the soundtrack are excited to see the music come to life on screen.
English junior Danielle Grondin said the soundtrack is a huge reason why she wants to see the film. "I haven't seen the play seeing the movie will be an OK substitute," Grondin said.
Brittlyn McLean, a nutritional sciences senior, said she was in a dance company that put on productions to various songs from the "Rent" soundtrack. She jumped at the chance to see the musical when it traveled to Detroit.
"I love it," she said. "It has a really nice display of different types of people and cultures, and no matter how different you are, human ties bring you together."
Lauren Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.
Who's who in "Rent"
(Jesse L. Martin original Broadway cast member)
Character bio: An old friend of Roger and Mark's. Reunites with them. A philosophy professor. He falls in love with Angel. HIV-positive.
Quote you'll remember Tom by: "Yeah, I teach. Computer-age philosophy. But my students would rather watch TV."
(Adam Pascal original Broadway cast member)
Character bio: An aspiring musician trying to write a masterpiece song before he dies. Contracted HIV from his last girlfriend, who committed suicide. He's coming off a long bout with drug addiction. Falls in love with Mimi.
Quote you'll remember Roger by: "How do you start a fire when there's nothing to burn?"
Character bio: Roger's love interest. An exotic dancer. Vibrant, loves going out. Struggling with a drug addiction. HIV-positive.
Quote you'll remember Mimi by: "I knew we'd hit it off the moment we met."
(Idina Menzel original Broadway cast member)
Character bio: Mark's ex-girlfriend. A performance artist. Starts dating Joanne after she breaks up with Mark.
Quote you'll remember Maureen by: "You always said how lucky that we were all friends. But it was us, baby we were the lucky ones."
(Anthony Rapp original Broadway cast member)
Character bio: Roger's roommate. A filmmaker. Was dating Maureen. Struggling between life as an artist and the need to make money.
Quote you'll remember Mark by: "How do you document real life when real life's getting more like fiction every day?"
Character bio: Maureen's new girlfriend. Tries to balance a strict lifestyle as a lawyer with Maureen's unscheduled artist lifestyle.
Quote you'll remember Joanne by: "You should try it in heels."
(Taye Diggs original Broadway cast member)
Character bio: One-time friend and roommate of Mark and Roger. Marries the landlord's daughter. Threatens his old friends with eviction. "Bad guy" in the story.
Quote you'll remember Benny by: "You'll see or you'll pack."
(Wilson Jermaine Heredia original Broadway cast member)
Character bio: Saves Tom Collins from a mugging. Street drummer who dresses up in drag. HIV-positive.
Quote you'll remember Angel by: "Today for you, tomorrow for me."