On Sunday night, September 7th, I was one of the lucky ones who scored a ticket to the final performance of the groundbreaking musical Rent at the Nederlander Theater on Broadway. The experience was emotional to say the least. The show's composer, Jonathan Larson, had died at the age of 35 just before Rent opened in 1996. His score, a rich amalgam of rock, Broadway and opera, served a story of 1990's youth trapped in the vises of poverty, drugs and AIDS but able to express their spirit and longing in song. The sanitized, antiseptic 2005 movie version had sucked the soul out Rent. Now, watching the new young cast on stage, I felt restored along with the show. It was a night to remember. But who saw it? Just the few hundred people who could squeeze inside the Nederlander. Rentheads (the most avid fans) huddled outside just to be there and dream of being inside. Now they can be. Let me explain.
For the first time ever, audiences across the country who couldn't see Rent and watch members of the original cast join the new cast onstage for the final curtain reprise of "Seasons of Love", can share the experience. As I blog, The Hot Ticket is showing that live performance of Rent in select movie theaters on September 24th, 25th, 27th, and 28th. Get busy — no day like today. Nothing can compare with seeing a show conceived for the stage in an actual performance. But the cinecast of Rent, staged directed by the original's Michael Grief and for the camera by Michael Warren, comes close. It's electrifying. Jon Kamen and the wizards at radical.media have utilized state-of-the-art high-definition video and digital audio technology to make the show come alive. Thanks to the gifted cinematographer Declan Quinn (Leaving Las Vegas, Monsoon Wedding), it practically jumps off the screen. In the heat of performance, actors can work up a lather. The big-screen film version of Rent cleaned everyone up for the camera, as if sweat beads were rude. Not here. When Eden Espinoza's Maureen sings her performance art piece,"Over the Moon," you can feel her temperature rising. The throb in the voice of Michael McElroy's Tom is palpable as he laments the death of Angel (Justin Johnston) in the haunting "I'll Cover You." And when Will Chase as Roger and Renee Elise Goldsberry as Mimi duet to "Goodbye, Love"( a song stupidly cut from the 2005 movie) the pain that comes with romantic longing seems to pour from their insides. None of that alienating lip-synching (the matching of lip movements with a pre-recoded voice, a process that kills the feeling of "being there" in so many movie musicals).This is the thrill of live performance, and it's all up there in the cinecast of Rent.
You can't see this kind of magic without dreaming of what's next on The Hot Ticket, from the same Sony Company that released the dreaded 2005 Rent. Is this version karmic payback? If so, it's working. For info, check out http://www.thehotticket.net.
Here's my two cents: I can think of so many shows that Hollywood botched (The Producers, Gypsy, South Pacific, A Chorus Line) being captured in a cinecast. Or how about shows still on Broadway that may never make it to the big screen, such as Spring Awakening, In the Heights, Jersey Boys and the youth-centric production of Hair that played in Central Park this summer? The list goes on. You probably have your own. Start listing.