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View Full Version : So I finally saw Rent....questions


fusoya
08-01-2010, 11:14 AM
My former high school did a production of Rent over the weekend, which I attended. This is the first time I've seen the show, and even though they did a great job (especially for a mostly high school cast), the acoustics weren't great and I missed about half the lyrics, so it took me a while to figure out what was going on. So for all your rentheads out there, my questions:

Why is it usually spelled RENT instead of Rent? I won't replicate it until someone tells me

Why is it called Rent anyway? I'm probably missing something, but this is the gist of what happened regarding rent. Mark & Roger's former roommate Ben marries a woman from the same town where the play was being performed and turns into a yuppie slumlord. He tells Mark & Roger that they can keep living in their shitty apartment for free, and then at the end of the year comes out of nowhere and wants the last year to be paid. They say no, he says "well then get rid of the protect-the-homeless protestors outside being led by your lesbian ex and I'll let it slide". They say no, he evicts them and locks up the building, they get caught breaking back in and then I really don't know what happened regarding their rent situation after that? Regardless, that seemed to be a minor subplot that didn't really affect the major subplots.

Also, if Ben is married now, why was he seemingly trying to date Mimi again? Was he no longer married, or just cheating?

They should have called the play AIDS. Who in the cast DIDN'T have AIDS? I now appreciate the "everyone has AIDS" song from Team America much more. Also, as much as I'm afraid to admit it, it wasn't until halfway through act 1 that I realized that Angel was a dude.

At the end of act 2, Mark's film gets shown. It was quite impressive, particularly the editing (and was filmed with the cast, so I know it wasn't just an imported prop) - is this a standard part of the play, or was it a touch that this production added?

Is Maureen's first appearance when she runs in with the cowbell at the end of Act 1? I kept scratching my head as to who she was (I kept getting her confused with Joanne) - the actress playing her was the most talented one in the whole show, so it's a shame they kept her locked up for the first hour.

What year is this supposed to be set in? I thought it was around 1990 due to all of the AIDS worries and Alphabet City still being a junkie hole, yet the show had references to email, cell phones and voicemail, which although they DID exist at the time, I had a hard time believing that most of the cast would know what those were.

They kept mentioning how Tom went to MIT and was a genius. If so, what was he doing living in a slum and hanging out with junkies? I think he was one of the people with AIDS too? If he knows how to reprogram an ATM to steal money, wouldn't that be his way out?

Speaking of which, were Maureen/Joanne supposed to be junkies too, or was their only connection to the main cast that they were involved in the "save the homeless" protest and that Maureen used to date Mark? Joanne in particular looked way too well dressed to believe she lived in Alphabet City.

What did Mimi "almost" die from? Was it AIDS? Cocaine? The cold? Speaking of which, is the line "you look 16? I'm 19!" in the original score, or did they throw that in as a lampshade for having a 16 year old play her?

Finally, what aspect of this show made it so popular? While the score wasn't bad, I think Ave Q (which I realize is more of a direct parody than I originally thought) handled most aspects much better, and most of it seemed pretty cliche.

multimediac17
08-01-2010, 11:33 AM
It's called Rent because the word means both the common definition (what you pay to a landlord) and it also means "torn apart".

I think Benny is cheating, but I never thought about it that much until now.

Maureen, Joanne, Mark and Benny don't have AIDS, so... half of the main characters. The play is famous for handling the issue very candidly but it's not like everybody in the cast has AIDS. Actually Roger and Mimi have HIV, so that leaves only two characters who actually have "full blown" AIDS.

Maureen's first appearance is supposed to be at the end of Act 1, yeah, although if I remember correctly her voice appears on one of the voicemails before she physically appears.

It's supposed to be set in a year around 89-91 - I don't think there is any mention of email in the original play, that may have been something thrown in by the production you saw. I could be wrong.

I've always thought Tom hangs around with the junkies because he wants to be a part of the "bohemian" lifestyle that they all sing about in 'La Vie Boheme', rather than "selling out".

Joanne is a lawyer and she's supposed to look like she's "too good" to be hanging out with the rest of them, but she joins in with the bohemia stuff so I think she supports that ideal without really living it. Neither she or Maureen are supposed to be junkies.

The line about looking 16 but being 19 is from the original play. I was never entirely sure what Mimi was supposed to almost die from, probably an overdose or the cold.

multimediac17
08-01-2010, 11:38 AM
As for why it's so popular I suppose I can only speak for myself but as with all the musicals I love it is basically down to the songs. The story is okay, and while I find some characters very annoying, the songs are just phenomenal. I listen to the soundtrack from the film all the time.

It takes a nice dream - living life as an artist, being all bohemian and carefree and removed from the corporate world - and then contrasts it with harsh realities like being poor and struggling with disease. I think it has a big emotional impact while never letting that get in the way of good songwriting or strong melodies.

I've missed the edit window for my above post now but only one of the cast is a junkie at the time the play is set: Mimi. Roger got HIV from sharing a needle but doesn't take drugs anymore.

WhyNot
08-01-2010, 12:12 PM
Alexi Darling, from Buzzline ("That show's so sleazy!") does mention email once, in one of her voicemails to Mark. It's a string of "Call me at... or.... or you can page me....or email me at..." and then she's cut off. Email was in use at the time, but I doubt any of our cast (except maybe Bennie) uses it; it's still a yuppie asshole thing.

I've recently noticed there's a strong use of telephones as metaphor for unsatisfying social connections in the show. Most of the calls are screened, and the person leaving the message is vapid and clueless to the Boheme's situation. The few times Mark actually answers the phone (when Maureen's equipment breaks down, when Collins calls, and accidentally when Bennie calls but Mark thinks it's Collins calling back) are vastly outnumbered by Alexie, the parents, etc. It's an interesting use, given Roger's rant late in the show about Mark using his camera to distance himself from real connection with other people. It seems as if technology is largely the bad guy. I can only imagine the Facebook musical number, were it written today!

Rent. Not only is it that thing you pay (or not) each month for an impermanent living space, it's what Collins and Angel feel their relationship is ("They say you can't buy love, now I know you can rent it") because of their AIDS status. That is, one or the other of them is bound to die before their relationship ends, so the relationship is understood to be temporary, and the sweeter for it.

Rent is everything these characters rail against but secretly embrace (especially Mark.) They don't own anything, they don't feel responsible for anything, indeed they feel that corporate ownership, especially, is monstrous and wrong, yet they crave connection and community. (Ironically, perhaps, as incorporation is connection of a sort, but it's an economically motivated connection, which is anathema to the artistic bohemes.) They form relationships as friends and roommates and lovers, but the makeup of those is not fixed or permanent because they're young and young people change a lot, and they've got some pretty serious issues to work out. As Mark says when Roger accuses him of detaching emotionally, "Perhaps it's because I'm the one of us to survive!" They all know at least some of them are likely to die young, move young, break up or otherwise lose one another, but they still love each other. They're renting their relationships until they're rent apart.

I think it's a neat little pun.

As for the AIDS abundance, RENT is a modernization of La Boheme (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_boh%C3%A8me), which had half the cast dying of consumption. AIDS was the current counterpoint to tuberculosis when RENT was written.

I should note that I LOVED the philosophy and energy of this show in my early 20's. Now I'm a curmudgeonly old lady of 35, I think they should just suck it up and get a job at Starbucks if they need money that badly. But I still love the songs, and I still tear up at least twice during the show ;)

fachverwirrt
08-01-2010, 12:34 PM
As for the AIDS abundance, RENT is a modernization of La Boheme, which had half the cast dying of consumption.

Only one person dies of consumption in La bohème.

WhyNot
08-01-2010, 12:43 PM
As for the AIDS abundance, RENT is a modernization of La Boheme, which had half the cast dying of consumption.

Only one person dies of consumption in La bohème.

And only one dies of AIDS in RENT.

fachverwirrt
08-01-2010, 12:46 PM
As for the AIDS abundance, RENT is a modernization of La Boheme, which had half the cast dying of consumption.

Only one person dies of consumption in La bohème.

And only one dies of AIDS in RENT.

The point is that there isn't an abundance of consumption in La bohème. Only one character (Mimi) has consumption at all, not "half the cast". Certainly AIDS in Rent is the analog to consumption, but not the "abundance" of it.

Electric Warrior
08-01-2010, 01:10 PM
I'm amazed by how fast everyone got all the other answers - but I really shouldn't be, this is the SDMB, fighting ignorance and all. Anyway I'll catch a few that weren't answered.

Why is it usually spelled RENT instead of Rent? I won't replicate it until someone tells me

Because it's capitalized in the logo. I don't think there is any significance to this.

Also, as much as I'm afraid to admit it, it wasn't until halfway through act 1 that I realized that Angel was a dude.

Angel's gender identity is purposely left ambiguous. Originally we are to assume that Angel is just a gay boy who likes to crossdress - and it's conventional to refer to drag performers in the gender they are dressed as, so "she" for Angel. But at Angel's funeral, Mark refers to her as "he" and then (as we're meant to assume he's getting glares from the assembled mourners) corrects himself to "she". Since Mark's major character arc includes him becoming more tolerant and respectful of people's differences, I think this is a significant moment for Mark and in the show overall.

At the end of act 2, Mark's film gets shown. It was quite impressive, particularly the editing (and was filmed with the cast, so I know it wasn't just an imported prop) - is this a standard part of the play, or was it a touch that this production added?

This is standard to performances of the play.

They kept mentioning how Tom went to MIT and was a genius. If so, what was he doing living in a slum and hanging out with junkies? I think he was one of the people with AIDS too? If he knows how to reprogram an ATM to steal money, wouldn't that be his way out?

I agree that he remains in the slums because he wants the bohemian lifestyle, but I also wanted to add that he was on the academic track, but is fed up with pedagogy and feels that his students are apathetic and don't care about his lessons or important social issues. He lost his teaching position after programming virtual reality equipment :rolleyes: to "self destruct as it broadcast the words 'actual reality - ACT UP (http://actupny.org/) - fight AIDS' ". Yes, he has AIDS - he says this explicitly in the stage version but the line was cut out of the movie for some reason.

What did Mimi "almost" die from? Was it AIDS? Cocaine? The cold?
An overdose of not cocaine but heroin. Mimi's line "I have a cold", IIRC, is part of her (failed) attempt to convince Roger she's not a junkie.

Finally, what aspect of this show made it so popular? While the score wasn't bad, I think Ave Q (which I realize is more of a direct parody than I originally thought) handled most aspects much better, and most of it seemed pretty cliche.
This show is much, much older than Avenue Q and I think a lot of its audience at the time felt that the characters resonated with their experience. I personally think the score is fantastic - especially in its updated, remastered version in the film *ducks while the purists throw rotten tomatoes at me* - and I find the relationships between characters very engaging.

multimediac17
08-01-2010, 01:25 PM
I personally think the score is fantastic - especially in its updated, remastered version in the film *ducks while the purists throw rotten tomatoes at me*

I agree with this, I have the Broadway cast recording but prefer the film soundtrack. I think often it comes down to which version you saw first - I've seen the film countless times but have never actually seen the musical on stage, and got the cast recording long after I became familiar with the film soundtrack. I think the film version of the score is sharper and more concise, and I think the performances are a little better, maybe because the film cast (who were of course mostly the original Broadway cast) knew this was their last chance to immortalise these roles and these songs.

WhyNot
08-01-2010, 01:44 PM
He lost his teaching position after programming virtual reality equipment :rolleyes: to "self destruct as it broadcast the words 'actual reality - ACT UP (http://actupny.org/) - fight AIDS' ".

This is a line from "La Vie Boheme," which is full of silly things the characters say the others would/should do. I don't think Maureen was actually recording Native American chants backwards through a Vocoder while accompanying herself on the electric cello for her next show...but it's a silly exaggeration of her wacky performance pieces.

What Collins himself says was, "They expelled me for my theory of actual reality (which I'll soon impart to the couch potatoes at New York University.)" It's clear that he had issues with the administration, and was exasperated with the philosophy department and philosophy in general and dreams of getting more grounded in his life and doing something more practical. He sings, "You could drum a gentle drum, and I could seat guests as they come, chatting not about Heidegger (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Heidegger)but wine." ("Santa Fe"). He's fed up with academia and navel-gazing for sure, but I don't think he actually sabotaged MIT equipment before he left there.

araminty
08-01-2010, 03:39 PM
I can only imagine the Facebook musical number, were it written today!

I respectfully submit the following... The Facebook Song (http://youtube.com/watch?v=S7MuwPlOiNQ) by my personal hero, Kate Miller-Heidke.

BrotherCadfael
08-01-2010, 03:47 PM
I can only imagine the Facebook musical number, were it written today!

I respectfully submit the following... The Facebook Song (http://youtube.com/watch?v=S7MuwPlOiNQ) by my personal hero, Kate Miller-Heidke.

And I'll add My Hope (http://youtube.com/watch?v=avxpn_MsPYs&feature=player_embedded), by my personal fave, Molly Lewis. The song is about what will happen to all those My Space pages when their owners grow up.

Justin_Bailey
08-01-2010, 09:42 PM
I agree with this, I have the Broadway cast recording but prefer the film soundtrack. I think often it comes down to which version you saw first - I've seen the film countless times but have never actually seen the musical on stage, and got the cast recording long after I became familiar with the film soundtrack. I think the film version of the score is sharper and more concise, and I think the performances are a little better, maybe because the film cast (who were of course mostly the original Broadway cast) knew this was their last chance to immortalise these roles and these songs.

Believe it or not, the majority of the original cast has played their characters in various touring versions of Rent at one time or another after the movie.

fusoya
08-02-2010, 12:04 AM
Thanks for the insight, everyone. I actually have a much MUCH better appreciation of the story after reading everyone's responses. I still haven't gotten an answer to the question of what happened with their apartment/rent situation after the "breaking back in" scene?

Also, I was surprised when I read the cast list for the film/broadway version that about half of the characters were black. The ONLY black actor in the entire production I saw (keep in mind, this was being performed by a school that is in the same town as Benny's wife's family, and we weren't really known for diversity) was the homeless woman who yelled "stop filming me, asshole!" Jesse Martin as Tom Collins....this I need to see.

Maggie the Ocelot
08-02-2010, 12:32 AM
In the movie, Ben, Joanne, and Tom are all played by African-Americans - Angel is I believe Latino of some sort (Puerto Rican?) and Mimi is played by Rosario Dawson, who is of incredibly mixed ethnicity (Puerto Rican, Afro-Cuban, Native American, and Irish)

The cast was basically the same as the Broadway one, except for Mimi and Joanne. (The actress who played Mimi on Broadway was pregnant when the movie was being filmed; the one who played Joanne was too old for the part. The previous Joanne was African-American also.)

Captain Amazing
08-02-2010, 12:42 AM
Thanks for the insight, everyone. I actually have a much MUCH better appreciation of the story after reading everyone's responses. I still haven't gotten an answer to the question of what happened with their apartment/rent situation after the "breaking back in" scene?

Benny catches them, and then in the song "Happy New Year-B", he gives Mark and Roger the apartment. From the lyrics:

BENNY
I See that You've Beaten Me To The
Punch

ROGER
How Did You Know We'd Be Here?

BENNY
I Had A Hunch

MARK
You're Not Mad?

BENNY
I'm Here To End This War
It's A Shame You Went And Destroyed
The Door

MIMI
Why All The Sudden The Big About Face

BENNY
The Credit Is Yours
You Made A Good Case

ROGER
What Case?

BENNY
Mimi Came To See Me
And She Had Much To Say

MIMI
That's Not How You Put It At All
Yesterday

BENNY
I Couldn't Stop Thinking About The
Whole Mess
Mark-You Want To Get This On Film

MARK
I Guess

BENNY
I Regret The
Unlucky Circumstances
Of The Past Seven Days

ROGER
Circumstance?
You Padlocked Our Door

BENNY
And It's With Great Pleasure
On Behalf Of Cyberarts
That I Hand You This Key

ANGEL
Golf Claps

MARK
I Have no Juice In My Battery

BENNY
Reshoot

ROGER
I See - This Is A Photo Opportunity

MAUREEN
The Benevolent God
Ushers The Poor Artists Back To
Their Flat
Were You Planning On Taking Down The
Barbed Wire
From The Lot, Too?

ROGER
Anything But That!

BENNY
Clearing The Lot Was A Safety Concern
We Break Ground This Month
But You Can Return

MAUREEN
That's Why You're Here With People
You Hate
Instead Of With Muffy At Muffy's Estate

BENNY
I'd Honestly Rather Be With You Tonight
Than In Westport--

ROGER
Spare Us Old Sport, The Soundbite

jackdavinci
08-02-2010, 02:12 AM
Because it's capitalized in the logo. I don't think there is any significance to this.

Yup. And the logo is capitalized because it's a stencil.

Sampiro
08-02-2010, 02:56 AM
One of the most important pieces of the RENT story is that its composer, Jonathan Larson (who was, believe it or not, straight) died the week it opened, never knowing what a huge hit he would have. It would be interesting to see had he lived if the taxes taken from his royalties and the number of sudden best friends he had would have made him sympathize a tad more with Benny and socialize a tad less with Roger and Mark ("You want money and health insurance? GET A FRIGGING JOB, HIPPIES!").

I like some of the music but the only characters I'd ever want to know would be Collins & Angel and Joanne (Collins would get old at times but at least he isn't sponging off Bennie, Angel's a street performer so at least he's earning money rather than whining and living on charity of a conservative friend he derides, and Joanne's law practice is doing a zillion times more good than Mark's self obsessed whining films and Roger's self obsessed whining music will ever likely do). Mark and Roger and Mimi and Maureen and several of the minor characters are people I can't think I'd ever hang with in a box or with a fox or eating lox or with smallpox.

DMark
08-02-2010, 03:11 AM
One of the most important pieces of the RENT story is that its composer, Jonathan Larson (who was, believe it or not, straight)...

Really?! Not Gay? Wow, I just assumed...

I really wanted to like this show - never got a chance to see it live when it first opened and then eagerly rented the film when it first came out on DVD.
As a Gay man, RENT is the only "hit" musical that I have not been able to watch to the end - it was just so pretentious and boring. Maybe it was the hype - but even with multiple showings on cable, and several tries, I just cannot get into this film an iota. Odd.

Nava
08-02-2010, 05:39 AM
Finally, what aspect of this show made it so popular? While the score wasn't bad, I think Ave Q (which I realize is more of a direct parody than I originally thought) handled most aspects much better, and most of it seemed pretty cliche.
This show is much, much older than Avenue Q and I think a lot of its audience at the time felt that the characters resonated with their experience. I personally think the score is fantastic - especially in its updated, remastered version in the film *ducks while the purists throw rotten tomatoes at me* - and I find the relationships between characters very engaging.

And this is important; maybe it's different for people from elsewhere, but I remember that when Rent came out, one of the big things about it was that it mentioned AIDS. At that point, AIDS was still being treated in general news and in the public conscience... well, it wasn't. It barely existed. It was something which happened only to gays and which didn't affect you unless you were a dude and received anally, even though by that time the largest-growing group of patients (and in some locations, the largest group) was heterosexual women who'd gotten it from their men or from needles. If it ever got mentioned, it was on medical news; often, with derision. For some reason, having a musical where several of the characters had AIDS/VIH, one of them a woman, and who'd gotten infected on different ways, got people talking about it more and more seriously. It had a huge social impact.

RealityChuck
08-02-2010, 08:36 AM
I liked the play overall, but the ending is breathtaking in the way it cheaply panders to the audience. After all that honesty, to come up with a phony "happy" ending (which isn't all that happy, since it's inevitable it will repeat as tragedy in a few days or moths) is appalling.

Justin_Bailey
08-02-2010, 08:37 AM
And this is important; maybe it's different for people from elsewhere, but I remember that when Rent came out, one of the big things about it was that it mentioned AIDS. At that point, AIDS was still being treated in general news and in the public conscience... well, it wasn't. It barely existed. It was something which happened only to gays and which didn't affect you unless you were a dude and received anally, even though by that time the largest-growing group of patients (and in some locations, the largest group) was heterosexual women who'd gotten it from their men or from needles. If it ever got mentioned, it was on medical news; often, with derision. For some reason, having a musical where several of the characters had AIDS/VIH, one of them a woman, and who'd gotten infected on different ways, got people talking about it more and more seriously. It had a huge social impact.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_HIV-positive_television_characters

Rent wasn't the first or even one of the earliest things to mention it.

Rent was also about five years after the death of Ryan White and three after Magic Johnson's admission he had it. So it was out there among non-gay people for the public for a long time.

Sampiro
08-02-2010, 11:06 AM
I really wanted to like this show - never got a chance to see it live when it first opened and then eagerly rented the film when it first came out on DVD.
As a Gay man, RENT is the only "hit" musical that I have not been able to watch to the end - it was just so pretentious and boring. Maybe it was the hype - but even with multiple showings on cable, and several tries, I just cannot get into this film an iota. Odd.

I didn't like the movie either. The main thing I liked about the play was the staging, which of course is much different in the film, but you can rent the Broadway Final Performance DVD (http://amazon.com/Rent-Filmed-Broadway-Will-Chase/dp/B001LMAKAG) (different cast from the movie and original Broadway cast) that will give you more of an idea and you might like it better than the movie.

Serenata67
08-02-2010, 05:37 PM
<snip> Jesse Martin as Tom Collins....this I need to see.

He is amazing. I was familiar with him on Law & Order before I realized it was him in the OBC. I owned the OBC soundtrack and I admired the voice of Tom Collins (esp. the I'll Cover You Reprise). It wasn't until later that I put two and two together... wow. He is quite possibly my favorite actor in the film version.

Sampiro
08-02-2010, 05:40 PM
Jesse Martin's triple twirl in the Santa Fe number was particularly impressive I thought.

Spice Weasel
08-02-2010, 10:54 PM
And this is important; maybe it's different for people from elsewhere, but I remember that when Rent came out, one of the big things about it was that it mentioned AIDS. At that point, AIDS was still being treated in general news and in the public conscience... well, it wasn't. It barely existed. It was something which happened only to gays and which didn't affect you unless you were a dude and received anally, even though by that time the largest-growing group of patients (and in some locations, the largest group) was heterosexual women who'd gotten it from their men or from needles. If it ever got mentioned, it was on medical news; often, with derision. For some reason, having a musical where several of the characters had AIDS/VIH, one of them a woman, and who'd gotten infected on different ways, got people talking about it more and more seriously. It had a huge social impact.
I've seen the play once, the DVD version. I thought it was pretty good, but I'm not a die-hard fan or anything.

I just thought I would add to Nava's statement about AIDS. Judging by your OP you're interpreting half the cast dying of AIDS as some kind of melodramatic exaggeration of reality. For a lot of inner-city LGBT communities of the time, it wasn't. That is part of the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic -- there were entire communities being struck down left and right and nobody gave a shit because the ones dying were junkies and gays. Imagine if half the people you knew were dying from a horrendous disease and nobody knew why and society, the government, the CDC, didn't seem to particularly care. That happened. The Castro District and New York City were among areas hit the absolute hardest. This play is a snapshot of history.

If you're interested in this topic from a historical standpoint, I strongly recommend one of the best books I have ever read, And The Band Played On (http://amazon.com/Band-Played-Politics-People-Epidemic/dp/0312241356) by Randy Shilts. It is an excellent piece of journalism and I always knew AIDS was bad, but I never realized how extremely bad it was until I read this book. It is a grotesque fucking disease and the vast majority of the carnage totally could have been prevented if action had been taken sooner.

jackdavinci
08-03-2010, 11:44 PM
Really?! Not Gay? Wow, I just assumed...

Yeah, but.. did he have AIDS?

FTR I was taken to see the show as a present and was underwhelmed. But then I saw the movie and loved it. I think the movie had better sound, singing, and choreography, and edited out the parts I didn't care for (all the long boring phone messages).

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