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Wednesday, September 28, 2005


I realize I get a little sentimental and sappy when it comes to talking about Jonathan Larson, the heart and soul and composer of Rent. As I've mentioned in other posts, his work is so inspiring because in his music, I not only hear the themes of love, but I feel it -- I hear a love of the art form, a love that never was or almost is...romantic love, fraternal love etc. and that's something I've never felt or heard as an overall theme in any other composer's work. More than that though, Larson's work to me, represents what I've always wanted and seen. To him, it is a passion for the art-form, the desire to make it his own, and the drive to succeed. With previous posts, I've tried to convey what his music and work means to me, but I don't think I ever truly can.

So yesterday, when the soundtrack for Rent came out, I had to rush out and buy it. I traveled over the hill to Tower on Sunset just to get the CD on it's street date. I guess I'm a little obsessive, but as I've said before, I take my musical theatre very seriously. The marketing masterminds at Warner Music thought it would be a great idea to have limited edition cardboard sleeve covers of each of the 8 principal characters -- I picked Taye Diggs' (Benny) cover. Of course I actually thought how cool it would be to have each of them...but I digress (and no, I don't need 8 cardboard sleeves). I've seen Rent only 4 times (I can't compete with the TRUE Rent-heads) but I've listened to the music more than I care to admit. I know each note and word of the musical well enough to be obsessive (almost). I was curious to hear how this soundtrack would differ from the "OCR" (Original Cast Recording) and how would I respond to this show, with 6 of the 8 principals, nearly 10 years later.

Some might say that listening to the soundtrack now might ruin my initial response to the film...but considering how well I know the show, that couldn't happen. On my way home, I settled into my car, turned up the volume, and let the music play. Track 1 was "Seasons of Love" which in the stage version, opened Act II, so hearing this surprised (but didn't bother) me. I will spare you all the painstaking track by track comparison cos even I'M not willing to go through that much detail. I did hear a difference between the 2 versions, the main difference being the "OCR" vs. the soundtrack is the obvious rock & roll vs. Broadway sound quality. It should be noted that Chris Columbus (the film's director) is also the album's executive producer, so thankfully he was able to carry the essence and authenticity of Larson's vision from stage to film in the new recording. Rob Cavallo, the album's producer infused "a new energy and spirit into this music" with "all of the cuts on this album remining faithful to the Broadway origins" and as Chris Columbus said in the album's liner notes, this album is "richer and multi-layered."

It might seem obvious that the album is decent if it is music FROM the film, but so was the film version of The Phantom of the Opera and the composer was involved in THAT recording which was the most henious thing I think I've ever heard. Thankfully though, the music from the Rent Soundtrack is surprisngly good. It is different from the OCR, but the sound (to me) really fits the nature of what this film is all about.

The original cast members sound great, if not better than they did on the should hope so. The newest additions to the cast, Rosario Dawson (Mimi) and Tracie Thoms (Joanne) are excellent. I had no idea that Dawson sang, but from the few times I've listened to the album so far, she seems to pull off the complex, tragic and vulnerable Mimi quite well. Vocally, her range seems to be a bit lower than that of her predecessor, Daphne Rubin Vega. Thoms voice is also rich, but higher and more sweet sounding than that of her precessor Fredi Walker. She too does a great job as Joanne, and I actually prefer her interpretation.

Overall, the Rent Soundtrack is grittier, more acoustic sounding and raw while maintaining a sense of humor and vulnerability more-so than I even imagined it could be. From the sounds of the soundtrack and what the trailer looks like, the film version could possibly surpass my love of the stage version. To admit that, is huge because everyone knows my loyalties and love, lies with the stage...always.

When it comes to musical theatre, I can be a big theatre snob, and because of that, I can be overly critical. I know though, what I do and do not like. And I like Rent in both "OCR" and soundtrack form. I am grateful and thrilled to hear the voices and interpretations of these characters being brought to the silver screen by the actors who created and nurtured these characters from the beginning under the guidance of Jonathan Larson. Knowing that the Larson family -- Julie, Nan and Al -- support the film and that Chris Columbus not only genuinely believes in maintaining the "integrity and vision" of Larson's work, but somehow shares it, is amazing and comforting because the very essence of Rent is so beautiful.

When I look at Jonathan's journal entry, I believe he succeeded in fulfilling the question of how to write for the stage tenfold. I only wish he were here to see what'd he's done for pop culture...his work has touched and changed the lives of nearly everyone who has ever been exposed to it.

As written above by Jonathan Larson: I am striving to become a writer and composer of musicals -- I am 25 and am faced with a dilemma. Although I am a sentimental romantic who loves old fashioned musicals I am a member of a very unsentimental romantic generation who basically think musicals are too corny. I feel that if I want to establish myself with "the powers that be" in the theatre, I must compose music that appeals to the older cast in the production houses and audience. But if I want to try to cultivate a new audience for musicals I must write shows with a score that MTV ears will accept. If you were me, which audience would you write for?

Also note, included on the album as a bonus track, is one of my favorite songs, Love Heals. The song has provided me with much comfort and encouragement in my darkest as well as brightest of days. Larson wrote Love Heals while working on Rent to help in the efforts of Love Heals - the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS education. The producers included the bonus track as a tribute to Jonathan and to help futher the cause of AIDS education.

Rent hits screens nationwide on November 23.


Tianyi Wang said...

Post the Taye Diggs Cover!

chizi said...

It's up! :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, you might not be able to see Daphne in the movie, but she is still giving raving performances! Don't know where you are, but this is for all New York Daphne fans! On November 28 she's doing a benefit in New York for the Women's Project. Check out their and support our first and only Mimi.

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