Wednesday, 28th January '09
The Opposite of War Isn't Peace - It's Creation!
And well said too. I just had the fortune of watching the full, high quality video of Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway and I have to say I can't imagine a more magical spectacle anywhere. Downright inspiring, and a completely essential addition to any musical lover's collection.
Whatever it was that they had tried to do with the movie didn't quite pan out in 2005 making - though I'll admit that depends on who you ask. I watched the movie cold (as in without any prior reading; temperature wise I was quite warm), jet lagged and curled up on Emma's couch in Brisbane, and I swear the whole affair made no sense whatsoever. Each song and dance item itself was marginally entertaining on its own, but the storyboarding so fragmented and the cinematography so stilted that I didn't even get a story, much less any excitement, out of it.
So given that I've never had the chance to see the real deal on Broadway, I approached this version with caution. I had always suspected there must be a magic to the Broadway production that the movie missed, and I pretty much expected the live filming to fall short in a similar way. Like watching a concert live, you never expect to feel your very soul pulse with the same exhilaration you'd feel seeing the rock star right in front of you.
I'll start with the production end - the end, I think, that made all the difference. You'd expect the cast to be sensational - and no doubt it was - but what I wasn't expecting was the brilliant use of the camera. None of that cheesy zooming in and out, crossfading and swooping vistas that plagued the Jekyll & Hyde recording (although arguably that particular piece of work was even more beleaguered by the presence of David Hasselhoff) - cinematic techniques that may work well on Lord of the Rings, but look plain silly when you just have one stage. Instead, dynamic editing, dramatic closeups and good old fashioned wide shots showing the whole stage. More things that worked well: a stationary set, artfully divided into several locals (you'll see this in the opening number, bizarrely enough, titled "Rent", right at the beginning of this entry) worked so well with film. Contrast the ridiculous effect of moving furniture when captured on film (Javert's suicide in Les Mis forming an exception).
And the cast. Oh ho ho. I have found my next upstart star to watch. You'll never have heard his name before, but Adam Kantor completely lit up the stage with an awesome performance as Mark Cohen. I'll say its not the toughest role to act, but Mark forms the focal point around which the story gathers, and may only have stage time second to the character of Roger Davis. Playing a character that leads the story through almost invariably forces one to step up to the role as leader of the ensemble cast - a role that must be so difficult to rise up to when it's your first professional work out of theatre school and you're the baby of the cast. But he did an almighty job of it, built up a great chemistry with Will Chase, and ran away with my heart in the process. He's so new right now you can barely Google him. He doesn't even have his own Wikepedia page yet (though if you were thickskinned enough you could try adding him on Facebook). But I tell you I see big things in his future.
Will Chase was equally awesome as Roger... props to the makeup team for the meticulous styling. Spiky hair, emo checkered tapered pants, guitar surgically grafted to the hand, and right down to the tattooed fingers and ghastly goth fingernails. Again, score for the filmed version, in which we get to appreciate every little detail. And he made it utterly believable. It would have been easy to play Roger as a one-dimensional angsty AIDS-carrying ex-heroin addict with dead ex-girlfriend rocker (as was painfully evident in the movie version), but he melded the pain of all that with a surly grouchiness displayed much around Mark and Collins, and showed the power of Mimi in his life with his bewildered sense of humour in "Light My Candle". He made Roger run the gamut of the audiences' emotions when he rejects Mimi's advances in "Another Day" and then reprises the same musical themes and rips its heart out with "Your Eyes".
Really, there's not one bad thing to say about the cast's performance. Eden Espinosa and Tracie Thomas' vocal range in "Take Me or Leave Me" and the former's complete conviction in "Over the Moon"; Justin Johnson's fabulous-darling! drag display in "Today 4 U"; the groove the Tom Collins actor gave "Santa Fe"... I could go on forever. Even the supporting cast was out of this world. Gwen Stewart's window-pane busting solo in Seasons of Love, the hilarious "honest living! honest living!" Chinese dude, and the beautiful "Will I?"... Overall, one just doesn't expect theatre to translate well into film. For one thing, TV acting is just... small. Broadway acting is larger than life. And yet they managed to perform scenes in way that just clicked beautifully onscreen and it was just inspiring to watch Mimi tear up at her death scene right on the spot.
The fact that it was filmed at the last and final ever live performance of 12 years must have played its part. If you've ever acted in a theatre piece which you've given even half a year of your life to before you'll know what the "Last Show Magic" is and here they were so very very full of it.
And all that is to say nothing of the genius of Jonathan Larson. I keep thinking how terribly the movie must have been done to obscure the musicality and story of the libretto. I loved the themes of understanding, bohemia, tolerance... thoughts and lessons all getting more and more valuable in this day and age. The music is that of an epic rock opera and yet... funny in its little ways. I refuse to say more. Go watch it.
I'm sold. But just in case you're not, here's a sample:
[well, the pictures aren't going to take themselves!]