Rent onscreen? Count on it — again. Though Christopher Columbus’ superb movie rendition of Rent already has come and gone, the long-running Broadway show waited until its last performance to commit the stage show to its own visual record, which is fitting — and not just because you don’t want to compete with yourself while a stage stint runs.
More vital, by waiting till the end, Sony’s new Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway also celebrates the emotional conclusion of Rent’s 12-year Broadway era in magical and meaningful ways, from a reunion of original cast members during the final curtain call with then-current performers on Sept. 7, 2008, to the last-show appearance of the sweet parents of Jonathan Larson, creator of the show’s book, music and lyrics, who died suddenly from an illness just as Rent was born off-Broadway.
Rent has always soldiered on beneath the sadness of Larson’s agonizingly untimely passing, while serving as a eulogy of hope from Larson himself. With Rent, it’s not about stars or hype or media sensations. It’s about the central inspiration within Larson’s work, no matter who’s performing it, or where, or when. Rent isn’t show biz. Rent is humanity — and great rock ‘n’ roll. And beyond all labels, descriptions, Tony awards and accolades, Rent is simply Rent. Rent is love.
That love shines through marvelously on this one-disc set, which is jammed with material. Beyond a stirring 2 1/2-hour performance of the show itself, there are compelling extra features, starting with a 37-minute Rent: The Final Days on Broadway, where the finality of the show’s closing spurs everyone to make those last days even more special.
Other featurettes spotlight the populism and humanity of Larson and his project, including The Final Lottery, which shows the Rent tradition of selling tickets for the front two rows for each performance for $20 each to those waiting behind barriers and lucky enough to have their name drawn. Also along those lines is The Wall, a chronicle of the signatures and messages left on the theater wall in Rent’s wake, and The Final Curtain Call, showing from backstage how original cast members — including Anthony Rapp and Jesse Martin — returned to celebrate and mark the moment as the Broadway run ended.
Not that you ever can capture the sheer electricity of an in-person stage show on film or on video. You can try, but there’s no matching the bond between performers and audience, or the special spontaneity and immediacy which every live performance brings. For those who want the highest degree of perfection preserved, I highly recommend the film version, which rocks so galvanizingly via original cast members mixed with the likes of Rosario Dawson, to whom I’ll forever be grateful for her Mimi.
All are part of the magnificent fabric of a show, a musical, a happening in which, in the mode of La Boheme, suffering artistic types in slummy urban digs (here, 1989 Manhattan) find comfort, solace, togetherness and love — despite poverty, despite AIDS and despite societal indifference. And they find that love in those 525,600 minutes which form each year of their lives by living day by day, minute by minute, one day at a time, and no day but today.
Through Larson, their story has inspired us for a dozen years. Through DVDs of the film and the stage show — and touring companies to boot — it will continue to inspire and move us as Rent — and Larson — keep casting their light of love upon the world.