In honor of the fresh, new Off-Broadway revival of RENT currently in previews at New World Stages, today we are taking a look back at the various incarnations of the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical by Jonathan Larson over the years - from the lighting-in-a-bottle original cast led by relative theatrical newcomers Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Daphne Rubin Vega, Taye Diggs, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel and more, all the way up to today and the new New York revival. We also look at the stupendous Blu-ray capture of the final cast of the original Broadway production, in addition to the Chris Columbus film version starring most of the original cast, live performances such as at the 2008 Tony Awards and the 1996 Democratic National Convention, some glimpses of both RENT and RENT REMIXED in the West End and all about the very best documentaries on the show! After all, when it comes to reviewing RENT in all its guises, well, there's no day but today!
RENT made a mark on the cultural landscape of America in a way few musicals have managed to do in the last thirty years and the mind marvels at what other cross-generational and cross-genre theatrical pieces Jonathan Larson could have devised had he lived past the age of thirty-six - or, even, had he lived to see RENT open on Broadway. Alas, he did not. While in the intervening years since RENT's rapturously-received premiere at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1996 we have been fortunate to see the premiere of another Larson musical - the intimate and adorable TICK, TICK… BOOM! - the loss of his potential legacy to the theatrical community and the general feeling of what could have been from a burgeoning genius such as he undoubtedly was inadvertently manages to make the potent message ticking like a time-bomb at the core of his pet show - in short: make the most of every moment you have on this earth - even more resonant. The message of the show lives on just as Larson's words and music do with every performance of the revolutionary musical. RENT is a cultural milestone that spoke to an entire generation and its impact is still being felt on Broadway and beyond to this very day - heck, there was just a RENT song on GLEE a few weeks ago!
So, with last night's premiere of the new Off-Broadway revival of RENT at New World Stages, opening August 11, it seems the time has come to take a look back at the original production itself fifteen years later, as well as refresh our memories of the television specials, tributes, feature film, Blu-Ray of the final Broadway performance, the West End versions the have come since - and perhaps there will be some special surprises in store, too! RENT, my amigos, is due!
Part A: Broadway Born
First up, let's go all the way back to April 29, 1996 and the actual opening night of RENT on Broadway and the unforgettable two-part Act One Finale, "La Vie Boheme", featuring the entire original Broadway cast in this awesome audience capture. Look at how impossibly young everyone looks! Listen to that ultra-appreciative audience! Witness a legend being born and a classic musical theatre moment being made simultaneously right before your very eyes Clue: Moo!
WARNING: Contains brief nudity and graphic language.
La Vie Boheme A
La Vie Boheme B
Next, here is the original Broadway cast of RENT on THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW in June, 1996, singing the Act Two opener - and the show's most famous song - "Seasons Of Love".
From the same Rosie Show, here is Adam Pascal singing a particularly Kurt Cobain-y version of "One Song Glory" in an odd arrangement that I have not heard used before or since.
Taken from Rosie O'Donnell's stint on THE VIEW ten years later, here is a touching tribute by the then-current cast of RENT to a young girl suffering from cystic fibrosis.
Part B: "Seasons Of Love"
Now or then, "Seasons Of Love" packs quite a punch - so, let's take a look at these three particularly notable performances of the song.
First, here is the original Broadway cast at the Democratic National Convention in 1996, introduced by Gulf War veteran Patrick Ellis.
Second, here is Anthony Rapp introducing the final Broadway cast of RENT at the 2008 Tony Awards, performing a snippet of "La Vie Boheme", followed by most of the original Broadway cast rejoining to give a tribute to Larson and sing the show's most famous anthem.
Third, perhaps the most famous version of the song: the original Broadway cast featuring Stevie Wonder, the bonus track from the OBCR. The harmonica makes it even more pleasingly sonorous!
Part C: West End 1 & 2
Now, the curiosity of the day: here is the cast of the 2007 West End revival of RENT, titled RENT REMIXED due to this severely rewritten iteration of the show with new arrangements and many other changes, performing at the Children In Need benefit. Note the modern look of the costumes and significant variants in the arrangement. Yes, that is Denise Van Outen as Maureen!
Continuing on the West End RENT theme, here is "Seasons Of Love" from the Broadway carbon-copy version of RENT that originally opened in the UK back in the 90s and closed shortly thereafter. Since RENT REMIXED proved almost equally fruitless for all involved almost ten years later, perhaps some shows just do not translate so well across the pond!
While most of the trendy new arrangements for RENT REMIXED did not quite work - and, in some cases, did not work at all - this Three Dog Night-esque take on "Another Day" has its certain charms.
Perhaps the most drastically rewritten of all, here is "Contact" from RENT REMIXED, done in a trance/house style.
Part D: Feature Film, Blu-ray, Documentaries & Beyond
Now, check out the trailer for the feature film adaptation of RENT starring most of the original Broadway cast, with Rosario Dawson as Mimi and Tracie Thoms as Joanne.
While the film failed to capture the excitement and electricity of the Broadway show, there were a handful of memorable and enjoyable moments - most of them featuring Rosario Dawson. Here is her "Out Tonight" given the full Chris Columbus cinematic treatment, although the Cat Scratch Club happens to appear awfully ritzy for a down and dirty kink club in the late-80s, don't you think?
RENT-heads were lucky enough to be treated to a touching and astoundingly comprehensive documentary on the RENT Special Edition DVD, so that seems to have made it all worthwhile.
And, then, we have the simply stupendous Blu-ray of the final Broadway performance of RENT. It is the perfect capture of the show. Absolutely excellent. What more can I say? See it. Here is Part One if you need a taste.
The Broadway Blu-ray also contains a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary on the last days of RENT on Broadway. Here.
Part E: RENT to Root, Back To Off-Broadway
Bringing it all full-circle, RENT returns to its Off-Broadway, NYTW roots in its New World Stages Premiere, so here is the entire ensemble of the Off-Broadway revival of RENT directed by Michael Greif as featured in the extensive behind-the-scenes and on-the-stage slideshow over at VanityFair.com. It seems that the spirit of this production is very much, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," which can only be a very good thing for fans of the show!
Also, BroadwayWorld will be the first place to feature video footage of the new production so be sure to stay tuned!
As a special bonus, check out Lea Michele and Amber Riley of the smash hit Fox musical comedy series GLEE taking on "Take Me Or Leave Me" from late last season, which is especially apt since RENT OBC cast member Idina Menzel plays Michele's mother on the show!
What do you think about RENT returning to its Off-Broadway roots with this new revival directed by original director Michael Greif? Is it too soon after the Broadway closing and film or are you ready to pay RENT its due all over again?
That's all for this week. Please remember that if you have discovered a particularly thrilling, unique, bizarre or hilarious Broadway-related clip to please send us a line at the link below. Until next week…