Untimely Reviews – “Rent”


"Rent" the musical is getting dated.  Aids is now called "HIV" and the drugs used to treat HIV are now much more advanced than AZT.  isn't the crime filled cesspool it once was.  New Yorkers are as worried about terrorists as they are the homeless.  There are no "cyber" studios.  Americans live in at the beginning of the millennium.  But "Rent" is still on the cutting edge even after cutting edge more than a decade ago.  The tragic stories of "Rent" and its vibrant mix of rock, dance, and showtunes endure to this day and like Shakespeare's plays or Michelangelo's ceilings, "Rent" will is a classic that will remain a part of our culture for a long time to come.

I saw "Rent" the musical at its home in NYC about 4 years ago.  "Rent" had been around a long time by then, but it was new to me.  A friend and I bought the cheap seats to the left of stage.  We couldn't see all the goings on, but it was nonetheless a blast.  For a show about living with HIV in the material '90s when you either sell out or die off, it was really fun and inspiring.  The theatre was packed and after the show, in a twist of irony, the bulk of the audience flocked to the chain restaurants that now infest .  My friend and I hit Applebees® and shared a veggie patch pizza and a riblet/chicken finger basket.   Only in !

Last year, "Rent" premiered as a movie.  My digital cable service rates "Rent" as a two star movie.  There are two things wrong here, (1) "Rent" does not need to be a movie, (2) now that "Rent" is a movie, it is actually a three star movie.  For number one, "Rent" the musical is very minimalist, it has only one set.  Part of the fun is seeing how far that one set can be stretched into multiple locations.  The movie's use of real locations or studio set makes "Rent" appear lazy.  For number two, "Rent" as a movie is nevertheless very entertaining and moving.  The music,  is performed in surround sound by the original cast, is top notch.  You will not hear that quality of music in a traveling show or the umpteenth revival on Broadway.  The story also hits home just as it did on stage; I'll admit I got a little teary eyed when it looked like the junkie HIV infected stripper was about die in the roofless squatters apartment.


     I think the reason that "Rent" garnered a paltry two stars is because of the audience.  "Rent" has been around long enough that it has divided the nation into two kinds of people, those that have seen "Rent" and those that never cared to.  If you have seen "Rent" on stage, the movie version is second rate at best, like vinyl flooring.  The locations in the movie, as real as they are, were boring: a realistic subway car, a realistic country club, a realistic city street.  *Yawn*.  I also think the movie version over-extended some of the non-singing-and-dancing story parts of the show.  Blah, blah, blah, who cares.  The funniest part of the stage version was Maureen's one-woman act.  It was hilarious because her act was terrible.  In the movie they play her act out as if Maureen was trying to garner laughs.  It was more fun laughing at her than with her.  If "Rent" the movie were still in theatres, I would tell everyone to just go see it live on stage.  However, "Rent" the movie is now cheaply found on digital cable or it can be "Rent"ed.  Heck, for the cost of one third of a Broadway theatre ticket, you can own a copy of "Rent" on DVD.


I haven't forgotten about the musical haters.  I too used to despise musicals.  Even as far back as the "Muppet Movie", when I was four or five years old, I hated when the puppets would all break into song.  I just wanted them all to get back to regular talking.  What I was missing then was an appreciation for the music in and of itself.  It can be a tough transition from pop to showtunes, but "Rent" makes that transition a little easier with its popesque sounds taken straight from that musical bridge between the 80s and the 90s.  I suggest cuddling with your sweetie (or find someone to cuddle with) and giving "Rent" a chance.


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