Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway
Film Length: 152 minutes
Release Date: February 3, 2009
Here’s your math quiz for the day: does the number 6,307,200 mean anything to you? Well for those of you familiar with Rent, the groundbreaking Jonathan Larson musical, you should already know that, according to “Seasons of Love,” the hit song from the show, a year consists of “five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes.” Times that by twelve, the approximate length Rent chalked up on the Great White Way, and you get the six million plus figure mentioned above. Rent probably was the culmination of an era first begun some 30 years earlier with the first nascent rock musicals like Hair. There have certainly been a slew of similarly scored shows since, some of them hits (Jesus Christ Superstar), some known only to lovers of flop musicals (Rockabye Hamlet). Though the genre is certainly still being exploited, sometimes brilliantly (as in the case of the incredible Spring Awakening), Rent somehow caught the zeitgeist of a generation, all the while setting it to some deliciously written music.
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past decade plus, Rent is famously a reworking of the behemoth Puccini opera La Boheme. This time our bohemians are dwellers in New York’s Lower East Side and the disease du jour is not the tuberculosis of the original, but AIDS. Rent chronicles the intertwined lives of eight characters, among them Roger (Will Chase), an HIV positive singer-songwriter, who shares an apartment with several others, including Mark (Adam Kantor), a burgeoning filmmaker whose attempts to document his group’s “live for art” lifestyle forms the focus of the musical. Also along for the ride are Angel (Justin Johnson), a transvestite percussionist (who knew?), Mimi (Renee Goldsberry), junkie and downstairs neighbor to Roger and Mark, and Maureen (Eden Espinosa), a lesbian performance artist who was previously involved with Mark.
Larson, who famously died tragically the night before Rent opened off-Broadway (its success led to its transfer to a legitimate Broadway house some months later), brilliantly wove original themes, literally and figuratively, from the original La Boheme into his adaptation. You’ll therefore hear a blistering guitar version of one of Puccini’s rhapsodic melodies, but perhaps more subtly, Larson took the basic setup of the opera and completely recast it in the light of late 20th century angst and jaded cynicism. If most of the characters are self-absorbed, spoiled brats (even if they happen to be homeless), isn’t that another perfect recreation of a late 90s gestalt, at least Greenwich Village-wise?
Though Rent made it to the film world in a pretty lackluster 2005 production, this new Blu-ray of the last Broadway performance of the show will be a revelation to anyone who has never seen the musical live, and perhaps even to those who have. There’s a palpable sense of electricity that courses through this performance, with incredibly lovely (if at times emotionally raw) vocal turns by the entire cast. There’s a bittersweet quality to the proceedings which only builds as the performance reaches its climax and a curtain call “Seasons of Love" featuring the reunion of several original cast members.
If you’ve never seen Rent live, the first thing that may astound you is the sheer bulk of activity on the stage. Original stage director Michael Greif fills the stage with multiple levels of action, all of which is covered beautifully by the film direction of Michael John Warren. You are so up close and personal throughout the bulk of this version that you may feel like you yourself are a member of the cast onstage at times. While the film version of Rent seemed awfully static at times, due to the necessity of one thing happening at one time, this stage performance is blistering with energy that fairly leaps off the screen and is viscerally contagious. The actors obviously know this is the last time they will be doing this, at least in this setting, and each and every one of them gives it their all.
Sony deserves kudos for developing this Hot Ticket premise, where live stage performances can be enjoyed by the public at large, most of whom simply can’t get to New York (or other venues), not to mention pay the exorbitant ticket prices for something like a final Broadway performance (a lottery was held—subject of an extra feature—to seat people in the first two rows). Rent is one of the most unique properties to ever grace the Broadway stage, and any lover of fine stagecraft is sure to enjoy this sterling presentation.
Video:Rent arrives in a very crisp looking 1.78:1 AVC transfer that, while necessarily on the dark side (this is, after all, a stage performance) maintains excellent color and contrast, with consistent black levels. Grain is apparent in the brightly backlit moments, but it’s completely natural looking. Occasionally film angles are slightly awkward—there’s a tendency to opt for a longshot when Mark is down left on the lip of the stage, making him almost drift off the right side of the image.
Audio:The True HD 5.1 soundtrack is remarkable, with crystal clear fidelity and brilliant range. Directionality is for the most part superb, though rear channels are utilized mostly for instrumental effects. This is a beautifully recorded production, with little change in ambient volume levels which sometimes hampers these live recordings. Larson's varied score is given a loving treatment here, both by the actors and musicians onstage, and the technical crew who recorded it so well.
Extras: The Blu-ray offers all of the extras of the SD-DVD, with a few exclusives added to the mix. The “standard” extras include:
Rent: The Final Days on Broadway (HD, 36 mins.), a nice retrospective of the musical’s closing moments.
The Wall (HD, 6 mins.) a look at the “shrine” to Rent and the late Jonathan Larson which contains fans’ comments.
The Final Lottery (HD, 9 mins.), which documents the choosing of audience members for the most sought after seats for the final performance.
The Final Curtain Call (HD, approx. 8 mins.), a backstage look at the original cast members getting ready to perform their last "Seasons of Love."
National Marfan Foundation PSA (SD, 1 min.), a PSA devoted to revealing the symptoms of the disease which probably killed Jonathan Larson.
Exclusive to the BD are:
Casting, (HD, approx. 8 mins.), which features casting agent Bernard Telsey talking about casting the show over its 12 year run.
Larson Foundation PSA (HD, approx. 6 mins.), documenting the great work the Larson Foundation does in furthering development of musicals.
Home (HD, approx. 7 mins.), a look how the Nederlander Theater was transformed into the “home” for Rent.
BD Live functionality, which didn't have much content loaded when I checked.