This case study focuses on “Rent” a musical production that first opened in Broadway in 1994. Jonathan Larson wrote and composed this musical. The musical is based on the Bohemian Ideals and is loosely based on La Puccini’s “La Boheme” (Puccini 1). The show was first shown in a limited three-week period at the New York Theatre.
It then ran until 1996. The show was a success managing to garner a Pulitzer Prize and eventually moving to a much larger Broadway theatre in Nederlander. The show also won a Tony award among many other awards in the course of its production. Financially, “Rent” was a success grossing over two hundred and eighty million dollars in Broadway earnings. By the time the show closed in 2008 after running for twelve years, it had already been staged over five thousand times.
It was also the longest running Broadway show at the time (Bennett 45). The show enjoyed successful tours both in the United States and around the world. Some of these tours include the “Angel” tour and the “Benny tour.” Around the world, there have been tours in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia. The show has also been adopted in over thirty-two countries around the world. It has also been performed in twenty-four languages.
The show has enjoyed positive reviews throughout it run. It was praised for its audience friendly scripting and the performance of some of its cast members like Neil Patrick Harris. Eventually, the show was adapted into a film in 2005. Some of the original cast members were featured in this film.
The plot of the show is linear, with the action arranged into two acts. The first Act introduces the main character Mark and his friends. This Act chronicles each character’s afflictions and problems. There are those who are battling AIDS, those who are seeking love, those who are battling to maintain their relationships, and those who are battling with financial insecurities.
There is also Benny who is seeking to achieve his goals by subjecting his friends to suffering. This act is centered on a demonstration that is planned to prevent Benny from developing a cyber studio in the lot next to Mark’s apartment. This Act reveals each character’s fears, trials and tribulations. The second act opens with Mark and Roger having been locked out of the apartment.
They are gathering a crowd around the apartment to help with the break-in. In the course of this Act, several relationships are severed, and Angel dies. The act ends with Mimi being very sick. At this state of near death, she struggles to confess her love for Mark. Then, they all gather to rejoice for the little time they have lived with each other.
The story is centered on Mark, a filmmaker, together with his group of friends: Roger, a rocker, and his roommate, who is suffering from AIDS. He was once a successful musician and had a drug addiction problem.
There is Mimi an exotic dancer who is also suffering from AIDS and is Roger’s love interest. She lives in an apartment below them and is a drug addict. Mark and Roger lived in an apartment complex that is now owned by their former roommate Benjamin “Benny” Coffin. Benny was able to purchase their building and the lot next to it after marrying a wealthy girl.
Although he had promised to let Mark and Roger live in his building rent free, he still goes back on his word and starts demanding rent from them. He now seeks to develop a cyber studio in the area occupied by the lot. Many people oppose this development led by Maureen Johnson, a lesbian, who used to be Mark’s girlfriend, and Joanne Jefferson, a public interest lawyer, and Maureen’s, current girlfriend.
Tom Collins used to live in this apartment before moving in with Angel. He is a gay anarchist and a teacher. Mark describes him as a computer genius. Angel is a drag queen and a street percussionist who has AIDS. Angel is Mark’s love interest and eventually succumbs to AIDS.
This musical’s performance touches on the themes of love, loss and betrayal (Rapp 19). Several characters have romantic feelings towards each other. The main character Mark used to date Maureen who has, in turn, become Joanne’s lover.
The strongest love is, however, exemplified by Roger and Mimi. Initially, Roger is reluctant to get romantically involved with Mimi. Near the end of the movie, he sings a very romantic song titled “your eyes” which is partially responsible for Mimi’s revival (Larson 1). Love, in this case, is closely connected to loss. Mark lost his love for Maureen and, since then, he has not found love in another woman.
Collin loses his love interest to AIDS and struggles to overcome his loss. Roger’s former girlfriend committed suicide when she found out she had AIDS. Betrayal is the other theme in this performance. Several characters feel betrayed by their bodies for contracting AIDS. In addition, Benny betrays his friends and former acquaintances.
This production appeals mostly to young people. This is because they are more likely to relate to the issues of love, sex, and same sex relationships. The story chronicles the struggles of young people. These include struggles with their careers, their parents constant meddling, their sexuality, drug addiction, or even newfound status. The older people may also be appealed to by this musical because it opens their eyes to the struggles of the young people.
The writer of this musical set it in his own town of residence, New York. Several of the addressed issues were situations the writer encountered on a day-to-day basis. During the time, the town was grappling with the AIDS epidemic that was cutting short the life of many young men and women at the time. The debate on same sex marriages was also in high gear during this time. This is probably why the writer of the musical chose to represent those in same sex relationships in a positive light.
“Rent” is a highly charged and emotional performance that uses music and artistic performance to communicate to its audience. This case study focuses on effects of “political modernism” when adapting the musical into a film.
The case study aims at investigating how modernism affects adaptation of the musical into a film through revisions, rewritings, change in musical performances, costumes, surfacing of themes among others (Baker 34). For this reason, the original “Rent” performance will be compared and contrasted with the 2005 film with the same name.
Areas of Analysis: Rewritings
One of the rewritings in the film is occasioned by the addition of an engagement scene in the film version. Joanne’s parents host this engagement. This change is most likely in line with modernism.
During the time the original musical was first performed, the issue of same sex marriages was frowned upon. By the time the film premiered in 2005, this stance had already softened. This makes this scene more palatable to the audience at this time.
The number of musical performances in the Braodway’s original performance is less than that which is in the film. In some instances, these songs are turned into dialogue. The director of the film cites some of the reasons for cutting out the songs as lack of pacing and some songs bearing unnecessary emotional burden.
After television audiences have been exposed to constant emotional distress, there is a need for more entertainment content in films than was needed a decade ago. The songs that were cut include “Christmas Bells,” “We Are Okay”and“Happy New Year.” All these songs are modern day television cliches. In line with artistic political modernism, they would not appeal to the latter audiences as they used to (Levenson 24).
Conveyance of Themes
The death of Roger’s girlfriend in the musical is shown as suicide. She did so when she found out that she had AIDS as stated in her suicide note. In the film version, she is only seen reading a doctor’s note.
The reason for this discrepancy may be that, back then, contracting AIDS was practically a death sentence. This has, however, changed over time. In addition, it is considered more politically correct today to give hope to those affected as opposed to agreeing with their desolation.
The transition of “Rent” from a musical to a film was a smooth one with no major discrepancies. However, a closer investigation reveals the effects of modernism in this translation. Several details were altered during this adaptation in line with political modernism (Zatlin 49). While the central theme remains the same, several other minor details of the original film have lost significance over time.
Baker, Houston. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Print.
Bennett, Susan. Theatre audiences: A theory of production and reception, New York, NY: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Larson, Jonathan. Rent the Musical-Lyrics. 1996. Web. 10 April. 2012.
Levenson, Michael. The Cambridge Companion to Modernism, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Print.
Puccini, Giacomo. La boheme —Libretto in English. n.d. Web. 10 April. 2012.
Rapp, Anthony. Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent, New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.
Zatlin, Phyllis. Theatrical Translation And Film Adaptation: A Practitioner’s View, London: Multilingual Matters, 2005. Print.