Questions, Comments & Concerns: Rent

Like any successful project with a rabid fan base, there’s a desire, and maybe even more so now, an expectation for additional installments (see: all the Fast & Furious movies, Arrested Development, Gilmore Girls, Prison Break, for some reason). Same rang true for Rent. In the years following, a Rent movie had always been a topic of discussion and the OG cast members were always asked when a movie was going to happen. And nearly 10 years after Rent debuted in 1996, a big screen adaptation of the blockbuster musical finally premiered in the fall of 2005.

It was received with mixed reviews from fans and critics, so we decided to re-watch the film and get to the bottom of why it was loved by some and hated by others. Conclusion:

Question: Why isn’t Daphne Rubin-Vega in this again?

T: I could look up the politics of this again but I don’t remember why Daphne Rubin-Vega was replaced with Rosario Dawson? Because she’s too “old”? She’s “not hot enough”? They needed a “movie star”?

M: I was thinking about this while driving the other day (secondary theme of the week: we are not cool). I decided she was working on another project at the time, which may be a lie. (OK, looked it up: she was pregnant.) Either way, Mimi is harder than all of the other characters to play 10 years after the musical premiered, because it is the only one saddled with a very specific, very young age (19, looks 16). Which brings me to:

Concern: Everyone Is Old

M: I’m no spring chicken, so that’s not an insult. But all of the OBC actors are a decade older than they were when they were cast in the musical, and it is central to the plot that these are vibrant idealists in the prime of life. It still works, and I will gladly suspend disbelief to see this many original cast members reprise their breakout roles. But the characters read different when they look like urban professionals in their 30s. I can tell you that at almost 30, my response to almost every situation in Rent, were it to happen in my real life, would be “I am too damn old for this.”

T: And for me, what was weird that I thought some of them looked younger than I thought they were when I watched it a decade ago. So young-looking old people playing the role of 1990s “millennials” is what this film features.

Concern: December 24 … 1989?

M: This was controversial when the movie came out (controversial for those of us who are too invested in film adaptations of musicals, anyway). The musical was set in the present day (at first) and as time wore on, around the era when it was released: the mid-90s. 1989 was when Jonathan Larson began his work on it. I’m not sure why this decision was made. Is it because in 2005, it was hard to conceive of a 90s period piece? Or because 1989 feels more like peak AIDS crisis? Because Mimi would look adorable in 80s clothes?

Anyway. There are some scenes where it doesn’t really work – cyber cafes were SO 90s, and I feel like we didn’t start talking about the end of the millennium until the mid 90s – but I don’t mind it too much. I’m mostly amazed at how they created a gritty version of the New York of 1980s Sesame Street eps.

Comment: IMDb makes me smart

T: Fun fact: There are two v notable names listed as executive producers of this project: Robert De Niro (of Robert De Niro) and Jeffrey Seller, who produced small hits such as Avenue Q, In The Heights and Hamilton, a show we never talk about, ever.

Comment: Tune Up #1

T: I actually like how they turned Tune Up #1 into Mark’s speaking monologue so it doesn’t come off as too “musical-y” but for the Rent-heads out there, I’m sure you found it just as hard not singing along to it. This is a choice they make throughout the movie, and for the most part, I think it’s smart. But at times it just sounds like they’re doing some sort of sing-songy slam poetry.

M: Plus, it keeps the movie from being 3 hours long. Source: church is always longer when the priest sings all of the talk-y bits instead of speaking them.

Concern: I now identify with Benny more than anyone else.

M: Benny realized that he’s 28 (made up age), married Allison Hendrix Gray, and acknowledged that in America, at the end of the millennium, you gotta collect rent on the building you own that’s gonna be prime real estate in 15 years.  What happened to his heart? It’s the Bush I era and a man’s gotta make a buck.

But maybe I’m just saying that because Taye Diggs is a beautiful, beautiful man and he is KILLING IT in You’ll See.

T: I momentarily seethed when he started to speak the lines from You’ll See in fear we wouldn’t get to hear him sing the one song that’s his in the entire show.

Comment: Oh Benny

Benny rolls up to Alphabet City in his Range Rover and is immediately surrounded by protesting tenants angrily singing Rent to him. Rough start.

Comment: I love Angel.

M: Wilson Jermaine Heredia plays Angel with the perfect mix of humor, life, and too-good-to-be-true kindness. Angel/Collins is one of my favorite musical couples.

Comment: Can I get a light

T: I understand the point is that the power blows but it’s darker than How to Get Away With Murder up in here.

M: Like when we were watching Cheers, I had to adjust my set because half of the background is just black blobs with the occasional string of Christmas lights. Mimi says our eyes will adjust.

Comment: April looks like a young Poehler + Gillian Anderson

M: And everyone looks 200% more 80s in the flashbacks. Just how long ago was that supposed to be?

Concern: Did Rosario Dawson miss her musical calling?

How did Rent effect Rosario Dawson’s potential musical theater career?? JK.

Comment: Mimi’s junkie makeup is really effective.

M: That might sound like faint praise but I mean it – she looks strung out and feverish but not in a gross way?

Concern: I now identify with Mark more than anyone else.

Mark, talking about his parents’ laborious message on the answering machine: “There are times when we’re dirt broke, hungry, and freezing, and I ask myself, why the hell am I still living here? And then they call. And I remember.”

T: Same, Mark. Same.

Concern: When the characters are in their late 30s they just sound like people who talk too much about brunch.

M: E.g., Mark says to Collins “so that’s why you could afford to splurge on us” and  it sounds like nothing so much as two guys discussing who’s buying the mimosas this week.

Comment: Angel’s entrance

T: But can you just imagine meeting someone like for the first time like this? Comes in dancing and singing with a plastic pickle tub about killing a random woman’s dog? I’d be like WHO IS THIS PERSON

M: Is Angel on coke? Because that is not a normal human energy level. Also also, believe it or not, Angel in Rent is when I first learned about using the pronouns people choose for themselves, because it was 1996 and I was 9.

Comment: I truly love Tracie Thoms

T: I’m fine with not bringing back Fredi Walker – Tracie is a better match chemistry wise with Idina.

M: Yes. Fredi Walker isn’t at all matronly, but her Joanne was more staid and mature, which made Maureen seem even more like a attention-seeking kid.

Comment: Tango Maureen hotness

T: I’m v into Joanne serving business chic & Idina serving tango dancer hotness.

M: I love how the dialogue about how Mark vs Joanne learned to dance shows, in two lines, exactly what kind of upper middle class kid each was.

Comment: They nailed Joanne’s 80s businesswoman attire.

Jheri curl, wide short tie, suspenders, statement earrings. It works.

Comment: Mighty Ducks meets Gilmore

As mentioned the other day in our Dream Cast post, there are two people of note in Life Support – Wayne Wilcox (Marty from Gilmore Girls) and Aaron Lohr (D2 & D3: Mighty Ducks and Newsies), two people from your youth you definitely didn’t expect to be in the Rent movie.

Question: Are New York/Pittsburgh exotic dancer scenes different?

When I watched Flashdance for the first time, I learned stripping in Pittsburgh during the 80s involved Japanese Kabuki, and apparently exotic dancing in New York in the early ’90s

Question: Will I?

T: How many of y’alls tried getting your friends to sing Will I in a round like this be honest

M: Just another Friday night in high school with the theater kids, hanging out in a basement rec room singing about “will I lose my dignity.”

Comment: The homeless woman is the voice of all of us watching Rent after our idealist phase has ended.

“Hey artist? Got a dollar. Didn’t think so.”

Question: Anyone else wanna hand out hand sanitizer after Santa Fe?

Everyone’s hands are ALL OVER the subway railings. (I remember being on the subway with a drunk friend in college who insisted on doing weird flips like Collins, and I was like okay, I’ll be at the end of the car pretending something’s happening on my phone BYE)

Question: What is Computer Age Philosphy (Actual Reality)?

T: I truly have no idea.

Question: Why are these two the cutest?

M: I’m going to go ahead and call I’ll Cover You the most adorable duet in musical history … even if this relationship is moving crazy fast. If you’re Jesse L. Martin or Wilson Jermaine Heredia, and you meet someone as cute as you are, you don’t let that pass you by.

Collins: Are we a thing?

Angel: Darling… we’re everything!

Why did they take that line out?!?!

T: Fun fact: This version of I’ll Cover You used to be my ringtone. I was the coolest.

Concern: The Rent/Hamilton effect

T: Roger says “Look around!” and I immediately continued sing, “look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now!” Ah the irony of being obsessed with a musical which was in part influenced by the musical you’re watching.

Question: How does Maureen have this many fans

M: Yeah, but not counting the homeless, how many tickets weren’t comped?

Comment: This shot of Idina

Actually, no comment at all.

Question: What do you think the crowd at the performance space smells like?

M: Me, I think weed, cigarettes, those alternative deodorants that don’t work.

T: Clove cigarettes (to be specific), patchouli, burnt newspapers, shattered hopes & dreams.

Comment: Financial woes

I love how Angel proves they can pay for dinner this time by flashing him a folded bill

Question: How does Benny think he’s going to “break ground in mid-January”?

Shit’s frozen.

Comment: Viva La Vie Boheme

Just for once I’d like to act out this scene in a legit production. Not even the whole show, just this scene. They have fun.

M: Seconded.

LOL Mark’s solo dance – I’ve never related so much to him. Except all the other times.

M: OH LORD get me a gif of Mark in that moment and project it onto my tombstone.

Concern: I almost fast-forwarded through Seasons of Love because it’s too sad.

M: Lest you think a 20-year-old musical can’t move me anymore, I almost start crying at Seasons of Love. Goal: all 2+ hours of this, no tears.

T: I mean, fair. The line, “How do you figure a last year on earth?” like, stop it.

M: I’m also noticing that Seasons of Love is very obviously the song they included to be a breakout hit. Like, “okay, we need one song in a basic pop structure with no swearing or weird sex stuff in it so we can go on the Rosie show.”

Comment: All Angel all the time pls

After a night of celebrating New year’s Eve, the gang arrives back at their building only to find a padlock on the door. Angel swiftly grabs a trash can to knock it off, and after she triumphs, an equally inebriated Collins asks, “You gonna put that trash can back?” and a definitely not drunk Angel replies, “No”. The best delivery.

Comment: I FORGOT SARAH SILVERMAN IS IN THIS

M: I forgot both that she was in it and that she was SO GOOD as a cold businessperson.

Concern: For Mark’s overall wellbeing

T: Proposing (to your girlfriend) in front of your ex(boyfriend) is a ballsy move, Maureen. I just can’t get over how much I am Mark.

M: Me too. I am Mark in the same ways that I am Chandler.

Question: Exactly how long have Maureen and Joanne been together?

M: Because Collins didn’t know Mark and Maureen had broken up, and Joanne and Mark just met, but apparently Maureen and Joanne are engaged.

T: U-Hauls, amirite?

Comment: Maureen’s kind of a bitch

“Every single day I walk down the street. I hear people say ‘Baby’ so sweet… There will always be women in rubber.” Maureen… calm down.

Comment: Benny and Mimi

T: I still don’t get how characteristically, Benny would want to date Mimi? He seems super pretentious ever since he moved out of Alphabet City, and looks down on everyone who lives there.

Concern: Without You is a lot more graphic in the film adaptation

M: We are treated to Mimi’s delirium tremens (I think?), the ever-shrinking support group, Angel’s scary looking fever, hospitalization, drug buying, strip clubs, all that. I’m just going to go ahead and say I can never tell when people are supposed to be sick from drugs stuff vs AIDS stuff. Anyway. Without You is like the opposite of those montages of people having wacky fun and falling in love.

Question: Will I be able to make it through the I’ll Cover You Reprise without crying?

Comment: No. And ugly crying at that.

M: At least Traci cried vs me, who just fast-forwarded through the whole funeral. I know I said I am a Chandler, but I have a strong Joey Tribbiani “book in the freezer” mentality for stuff I don’t want to see.

T: Like Hannah Horvath, I am a glutton for pain. We’re just a blog about comparing ourselves to fictional characters now.

Comment: I am Mark reason #1094

T: Mark says, “Come on guys chill” during Goodbye Love when everyone is fighting. Excuse me while I go find a vintage videocamera and start documenting my friends’ terrible love lives.

Question: You know what I miss?

Using yuppie as an insult. (NB, I am technically a yuppie now? )

Question: How many times do you think Anthony Rapp & Adam Pascal have had to sing What You Own in their lifetime?

Approx a million.

Comment: I am Mark reason #1095

“Dive into work, drive the other way.” Me too, Mark. Me too.

Concern: Everytime I hear the phone ring i have a Pavlov dog’s response to getting up to answer the landline

Comment: Your Eyes

You Eyes, a mediocre song at best, is not a song Roger should be singing to Mimi on her “deathbed”. Like I know this scene is sad and everyhting, but this song would not be the last one I’d want to hear. ever

Question: What disease is Mimi having?

Is this AIDS? Hypothermia? Drug overdose? Picturesque yet vague musical theater malady?

Comment: I reflexively sing all of the lines in my head that they’re speaking here.

e.g., I rewired the ATM at the food emporium to provide an honorarium to anyone with the code.

Question:You know what I didn’t account for during rent week?

T: Literally ALL THE TIMES THAT SHE CRIED

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No Shame Playing The Fame Game: A Rent Dream Cast

When Rent was originally developed off-Broadway in 1995, the cast was comprised of both newbies and veteran actors, but the one thing they all had in common was talent. Adam Pascal, much like Roger, was an aspiring rocker when he stumbled across the audition for Rent. He had never really done musical theater before – in fact, the blocking for One Song Glory in which he goes back and forth from a table was designed specifically so he could look at pages of the script to rememeber his lines. Meanwhile, his co-star Anthony Rapp had already made his Broadway debut 15 years prior to taking the Nederlander stage.

And over the past two decades, casting for Rent in productions around the world have followed the same formula. You get a handful of “Adams” (Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pals Karen Olivo and Leslie Odom Jr.) and “Anthonys” (Neil Patrick Harris, Mel B, Joey Fatone).

With all this talent floating around for the past 20 years, I got to thinking what a production would look like if I put the best of the best together in one dream cast. Let me tell you it’s harder than it seems, just because so many people have come and gone in these iconic roles over the past two decades. I will say that I tried to not use OBC members since they’re lit’rally on a different level (I mean, just look at these bbs at the ’96 Tony Awards), so here are some of my faves who have been to Alphabet City and were the best to tell the epic story of Rent.

Skyler Astin as Mark Cohen and Aaron Tveit as Roger Davis

Every year, the folks at the Hollywood Bowl pick a musical to present for one weekend in the summer, and it’s usually a star-studded affair. They’ve done Hairspray, Spamalot, and this year they’re doing A Chorus Line, but in 2010, Neil Patrick Harris (who played Mark in a ’97 national tour) was put in charge as the director of Rent. And he managed to get a super talented cast on board – Wayne Brady (Collins), Vanessa Hudgens (Mimi), Nicole Scherzinger (Maureen), and Gwen Stewart, who reprised her role from the OBC as the soloist in Seasons of Love. But the real highlight was a pre-Pitch Perfect and post-Next to Normal Aaron Tveit as Mark and Roger, respectively. This duo alone made me immediately purchase a ticket (again, one of the eight times I’ve seen Rent). Both Aaron and Skyler are amazing singers and Broadway vets, so commanding an audience of 17,000 in an outdoor amphitheater is no small feat, but both got the job done and done well. They were perfectly cast and also had good chemistry between themselves, which bodes well as the core of the Rent family. I think I passed out during What You Own.

Renee Elise Goldsberry as Mimi Márquez

Before she was looking for a mind at work, Renee Elise Goldsberry was looking for a light and her stash of heroin in Rent. The goddesss that we all know and love from Hamilton was the last person to play Mimi on Broadway when it closed in 2008. Renee played her version of Mimi as sexy, cool, and vulnerable all at the same time, and of course had the pipes to back it up. I also managed to see the final Broadway run (2 of 8, #humblebrag) and when I stage doored the cast, I legit have a picture that’s currently up on Facebook of a pic of Renee posing for a picture *with someone else that’s not me* and the caption reads, “renee … something or other. she played mimi. she was also on one life to live.” Oh 2008 Traci. Little did you know.

Jesse L. Martin as Tom Collins

Ok, here’s one of two exceptions I made with the OBC. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing as good a job as Jesse L. Martin did with Collins. Few have come close, but I don’t think anyone’s been able to capture the same heart and sorrow Jesse conveyed as Collins. And separately, Jesse is a fantastic actor, while also an astounding singer, and no where else does this come through the best than when he sings the I’ll Cover You reprise. There hasn’t been a time I’ve watched him sing this where I haven’t cried.

Justin Johnson as Angel Dumott Schunard

Justin was Renee’s co-star in the final Broadway cast, and akin to Jesse, it’s hard to live up to the OG cast, especially following Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who took home a Tony for playing Angel. But there was something about Justin in this role that *gave Angel new wings*. I remember thinking he made the role feel fresh, and exciting again. After 12 years, there have been Angels who copy Wilson, and Angels who take it too far, but Justin was jussttt right. He also had outstanding chemistry with his Collins, played by Michael McElroy, who might come up again later.

Annaleigh Ashford as Maureen Johnson

Honestly, if you don’t like Annaleigh Ashford don’t talk to me. This girl is amazing in everything she does, frankly it’s annoying. From Wicked to Kinky Boots to Masters of Sex, she manages to bring humor and heart to every role. If Idina can’t be Maureen, I want Annaleigh to be Maureen in everything. This role is so perfect for her, I almost can’t even watch it.

Tracie Thoms as Joanne Jefferson

Tracie had been auditioning for Rent for eight years before booking the role of Joanne in the movie – she was a legit Renthead that proved dreams could come true. And not only did she appear on the big screen as Maureen’s love interest, she reprised her role in the final Broadway cast in 2008 and in 2010 for the Hollywood Bowl. And with all due respect to Fredi Walker Browne, I always pictured Joanne more like Tracie, which is why I think she’s the perfect person to play opposite a young firecracker like Maureen. True story: I met Tracie Thoms after the Broadway show and told her we had the same name. She feigned amusement. I hung my head in shame and my friend took this super zoomed in pic of us:

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lolololol

Leslie Odom Jr. as Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III

Like his Hamilton co-star Renee, Leslie also had a role in Rent prior to heading off to duel A. Ham, in fact, Rent was his Broadway debut. He grew up singing in church and musicals weren’t even in vocabulary until Rent. He graduated from high school and had spent the summer auditioning when he got the called to play Paul in the ensemble. He was 17. Now at 34, I’m pretty sure he can pull off a pretty convincing “villain” in Benny. I think he’s had some practice.

Ensemble

  • Michael McElroy as Mr. Jefferson / Pastor

As previously mentioned, Michael was the last person to play Collins on Broadway and I was :thisclose: to choosing him for Collins, but bumped him in favor of my boy Jesse instead. Again, his chemistry with Justin was infectioous and his voice is so so dreamy.

  • Gwen Stewart as Mrs. Jefferson / Woman with bags / “Seasons of Love” soloist

Also as previously mentioned, Gwen was in the OBC, so why not ruin a good thing?

  • Wayne Wilcox as Gordon / The Man / Mr. Grey

Wayne played Gordon in the movie but you know why he looks familiar to you? Because he played Marty, Rory’s sometimes naked, unrequited love interested from Gilmore Girls.

  • Telly Leung as Paul

Telly was in the final Broadway cast in the ensemble and also played Angel in the Hollywood Bowl cast and he is just delightful.

  • Emma Hunton as Alexi Darling / Mrs. Davis

Emma played Maureen in the 2011 Off-Broadway revival, and you obviously have to have an impressive set of pipes for that role. She’s also been in Spring Awakening, Next to Normal and in the little role Elphaba in the Wicked tour.

  • Aaron Lohr Steve / Squeegee man / Waiter

Aaron played the same role, and in a seat next to Wayne Wilcox in the movie, and again, if he looks familiar to you, you’re a child of the ’90s because he was Mush in Newsies and in D2 and D3: The Mighty Ducks as Dean Portman.

  • Eden Espinosa as Mrs. Cohen

Eden took on the role of Maureen in the final Broadway cast with some others mentioned above. And it seems to be some kind of trend because like Emma and Idina – she also is best known for playing Elphie both on Broadway and on tour for Wicked.