Thursday, September 25, 2008

Finding It Hard To Say Goodbye (Love)...

Three years after Sony Pictures and Chris Columbus released their disappointing film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning Jonathan Larson's acclaimed Broadway production, RENT, they are calling a do-over. Last night, in limited release, Sony screened RENT: The Hot Ticket, the next in their series of high interest stage shows being filmed and broadcast in select theaters across the country. It is an effort to make certain entertainment (in the past, productions include those of Cirque Du Soleil) more accessible (and affordable), but with RENT, it feels like making amends before saying good-bye.

RENT shut its Nederlander Theatre lights on September 7th, closing a book in the encyclopedia of pop culture and leaving many diehard fans without their religion. For a generation of kids-- growing up in the city in which the show was penned, set, and performed or not-- RENT spoke to them the way nothing had before: it gave them hope; it made them feel like they were not alone; and perhaps most importantly, it made them laugh and made them cry. And the true RENTheads came out in droves for this Sony screening, camping out in lines that snaked around corners of shopping centers, eagerly paying the twenty dollar admission fee which was once reserved for a front row seat lottery that only a lucky few would receive at each Broadway performance.

Though RENTheads picked apart the original film adaptation, criticizing everything from the glossy, bright colors that made the on-screen New York reek of modern day Times Square instead of the late 1980s East Village, to the odd omissions of full songs and rogue lines (without Joanne's "I'll never be a theater person" in "RENT," Mark's "The narrative crackles and pops with incendiary wit" makes little sense), there was little room in RENT: The Hot Ticket to think about anything through the tears. Immediately from the opening bars you just get lost in the music and the moment, as is always intended in such art. The chills fly up the spine from minute one and don’t go away, even throughout the ten minute “live” intermission, during which the camera was left on the stage to make the audience feel like they’re sitting in the Nederlander, watching the roadies sweep the stage, too.

The only thing that has saved Columbus' RENT from complete extinction with this new release is the fact that RENT: The Hot Ticket was filmed with the current Broadway cast at the time of the show's end (and let me just add how amazingly fantastic it was to see Tracie Thoms reprise the role of Joanne on-screen again!), and most of the original cast members only make an appearance to perform the full version of "Seasons of Love." If Adam, Anthony, Daphne, Jesse, Wilson, Idina, Fredi and Taye had returned to the stage one last time for this filming, though, RENT: The Hot Ticket would completely erase Columbus' RENT from our consciousness. This is the RENT Sony should have made the first time around. Putting three cameras in the Nederlander and following the action the way Jonathan Larson dreamed it up is what captures the original integrity, beauty, and yes, dignity of the performances and the script.

Filmed in traditional live audience style, the cameras are never intrusive but still manage to capture the energy and essence of each scene and each song. Though many shots are tight close ups, and often locked off, therefore cropping the actors at the forehead, only three lines were dropped, and what makes it most impressive is that fact: RENT: The Hot Ticket was done with one take, no do-overs, no fancy FX in post to cover flubs. Often favoring profile shots, RENT: The Hot Ticket is real and raw the way Jonathan Larson intended it to be. It is artistic and free-spirited, and most importantly, obvious that everyone was loving every minute. RENT is a timeless production, and unfortunately Chris Columbus dated it with his late-eighties period piece film in everything from hair to wardrobe, but The Hot Ticket returns the production to where it needs to be—for all of the generations to come who are looking for an outlet, for hope, for someone or something to tell them it’s okay to be who they are. This film (if released on DVD, especially) will speak directly and universally to hundreds if not thousands of more individuals from all over the world: it is a testament to Jonathan Larson’s words, not just another big blockbuster hoping for a strong opening weekend. RENT: The Hot Ticket has all the heart Chris Columbus’ big studio version attempted but lacked.

RENT: The Hot Ticket will have repeat performances once a night until Sunday, and undoubtedly some of the same fan faces will return again and again, finding it hard to say their "Goodbye, Love"s.

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