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Jewish Journal

Spectator - Movie for ‘Rent’

by Keren Engelberg

November 17, 2005 | 7:00 pm

More people can afford "Rent" this month, thanks to Revolution Studios. The production company brings a film version of the Jonathan Larson rock opera to movie theaters this week, directed by Chris Columbus and starring most of the original Broadway cast.

Set against the backdrop of New York's East Village in the late 1980s, and based on Puccini's opera, "La Boheme," "Rent" tells the story of bohemian artist friends struggling with poverty, heartbreak, drug addiction and AIDS.

Perhaps because of its gritty, real themes and characters, the show has been credited with generating interest among younger generations in musical theater. "Rent" is currently the eighth longest-running show in Broadway history, with a fan base affectionately called "Rentheads."

Notably absent from the film creation is show creator Larson, who died of an aortic aneurysm on the eve of the play's first preview. Larson's sister, Julie, is the film's co-producer, which should ease fans' minds about the filmmakers' desire to do justice to a show that has won both Pulitzer and Tony awards.

Indeed, the sound and feel of Broadway's "Rent" are intact, even while the music assumes a slightly edgier rock core, and some dialogue is spoken rather than sung.

Jewish Rentheads can also rest easy, as the little nods and throwaway lines Larson wrote for Jewish character Mark Cohen are still there, too. Mark still mentions his bar mitzvah, and talks about learning to tango with Nanette Himmelfarb, the rabbi's daughter at the Scarsdale Jewish Community Center.

The filmmakers also kept the part where Mark's mom calls him on Christmas to wish him a happy holiday. That may sound strange, but actor Anthony Rapp, who reprises the role from Broadway, explained that Mark's character was drawn from Larson's own experience.

"I know that Jonathan did celebrate Christmas in their house, but I think they also had a menorah," Rapp said.

This loyalty to Larson's vision is a hallmark of the film.

"We're here to serve Jonathan and the play," said Tracie Thoms, who plays Joanne in the film. "And we're here to serve all the fans who were touched and moved and saved by the play."

"Rent" opens in theaters Nov. 23.

 

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