Note: This review reveals minor details of the musical/movie’s plot.
The Broadway Musical, Rent, has gotten a lot of buzz recently due to it’s theatrical release last year, but it’s been on the stage since 1996. Jonathan Larson (who unfortunately died before the show made it on Broadway) loosely based the rock opera on the classic opera, La Boheme, and it’s seen a lot of success in the past ten years.
Rent tells the story of eight young Bohemians living in New York in 1989. The musical follows a year in their lives as they struggle to make it, but more importantly, learn how to lean on one another throughout their various hardships.
Rent- the Original Broadway Cast was recorded in 1996, with, obviously, the original Broadway cast, and is such a treat to listen to. I became a fan of Rent after seeing the movie (And yes, I am ashamed to have never seen it on Broadway. But what can I say? I’m a starving college student! Someday, though!), and the very next day after seeing the movie, I went online and bought this recording of the soundtrack.
The first song on the album (after various interludes that help set up the story) is the title track, Rent. It starts off with some rocking electric guitar that’s guaranteed to make you want to dance. Mark (played and sung by Anthony Rapp) starts off singing, “How do you document real life/When real life’s getting more like fiction each day?”, which sets the defiant mood for the entire song. It appears that his landlord, and former best friend, Benny (Taye Diggs) has given him and his roommate, Roger (Adam Pascal), a deadline to either pay their past rent or get out. Since both Roger and Mark are unemployed, they spend the majority of the song wondering “How we gonna pay/How we gonna pay/Last years rent?”. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast are introduced, but I’ll I’ll get to them later. My favorite part of the song is the end, as the entire company cries, “We’re not gonna pay/Last year’s rent/This year’s rent/Next year’s rent/…cause everything is rent!”
One Song Glory starts off very slow and mellow as Roger slowly tells the story of his life. He was once the lead singer of a rock band, looking for fame and fortune, until his girlfriend contracted AIDS from using drugs. Unfortunately, Roger also got the virus and had to spend seven months in rehab, but his girlfriend died. The song, like Roger’s character, is soft and sensitive, but also edgy, which is balanced nicely with beautiful chords and Adam’s vocal talent. As he sings, “Time flies/And then no need to endure anymore/Time dies”, you’ll almost feel your heart breaking with him.
Roger is interrupted when he hears a knock on his door. Expecting Mark, or their friend, Collins (Jesse Martin), he rushes to the door, only to find their neighbor, Mimi (Daphne Rubin-Vega,), looking expectant and holding a candle. This leads us into another great song, Light My Candle. I think the best part about this song is how it actually plays as a conversation between Mimi and Roger. Mimi has obviously got her eyes set on Roger and keeps flirting with him (using “light my candle” as a coy metaphor), but Roger’s a bit unsure of whether or not he really wants to be involved with someone so suddenly after the death of his former flame (pun intended…I crack myself up! 😉 ). We learn that Mimi works at the Cat Scratch Club and also has her own drug addiction, but after a few minutes of awkward moments for Roger, she leaves his apartment to head for work.
Collins finally shows up, but he has a friend with him. We’re properly introduced to Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia, ), a cross dresser who helped out Collins after he got beat up on the street the night before. Today 4 U is a bouncy song in which Angel sings about how she makes her money on the street. Since there’s nothing that great about the song musically, the best of the song is all in Heredia’s performance. He does a great job as presenting Angel as a carefree person who truly lives in the moment.
At this point in the CD, we’ve already learned that Mark’s former girlfriend, Maureen (Idina Menzel) has left him for another woman- Joanne (Fredi Walker,). But when Maureen calls Mark for help on her rally later on that night, he hurries down to the studio, only to find Joanne waiting for an engineer. Being the good guy that he is, Mark offers to help Joanne since the engineer is late, which launches us intoTango:Maureen. And yes, the song is actually a tango. Most fans of Rent find this to be one of their favorite songs, and it’s one of mine too. From the tango beat (if you didn’t think Larson was amazing before this, you’ll change your mind. Anyone that can work a tango into a rock opera is brilliant) to hilarious lyrics (“So you think/Might as well/Dance a tango to hell/At least I’ll have tangoed at all”). Rapp and Walker also sound great together; both of their voices are blend pleasantly and you can’t help but smile as Mark tries to warn Joanne of Maureen’s conniving ways.
We find Mimi at her job, which brings us to Out Tonight. This song also starts off with a nice guitar hook, and leads us into a fun, upbeat song. As I mentioned earlier, Vega’s voice can get a bit annoying at times (I actually prefer Rosario Dawson, who played Mimi in the movie), though it’s not as grating in this song. She actually has a decent voice, but she was obviously an untrained singer prior to this and the raspy-ness of her voice can be a bit annoying to listen to at times. Luckily, this song is mostly comprised of her belting about how she wants to go out on the town, so it works well with her voice. There’s a nice bridge towards the middle of the song where the tempo slows and she softly sings, “So let’s find a bar/So dark we forget who we are/And all the scars of the nevers and maybes die” before picking back up to the chorus. Predictably, she heads back to Roger’s and asks him to take her out.
It might seem as though Roger was playing hard to get before, but he’s pretty p!ssed now. Another Day starts off with some drums and more guitar as Roger cries “Looking for romance?/Come back another day!”. After a verse from Roger, Mimi responds by softly singing, “There’s only us/There’s only this/Forget regret/Or life is yours to miss/No other road/No other way/No day but today”, which is a reoccurring theme throughout the musical. Roger comes right back by telling her to “take your needle/take your fancy prayer/…the fire is dead/ain’t never ever gonna start”. The two of them go back and forth for a few minutes, with Roger trying to tell Mimi to move on and Mimi trying to convince him to live in the moment. This duet is one of my favorites on the album; it’s obvious that it’s hard for Roger to push Mimi away, but he knows that he has AIDS and doesn’t want to get involved in a relationship with anyone. Mimi finally gives up and walks away, living Roger alone again with his guitar.
Meanwhile, Collins and Angel have gone to a Life Support meeting- a support group for people who are suffering from AIDS. One of the most poignant and bittersweet songs on the album is Will I?, a song that’s sung at the meeting. Though the lyrics are short and simplistic (“Will I loose my dignity?/Will someone care?/Will I wake tomorrow/From this nightmare?”), the way the song is sung in a round throughout the Life Support members is moving and I definitely remember crying after hearing it for the first time.
Santa Fe brings back the lightheartedness of the album, as Collins and Angel daydream about moving to Santa Fe and opening up a restaurant. The bouncy beat and catchy tune will easily get stuck in your head, and I dare any of you to take a trip to New York and ride the subway without wanting to burst into a verse of Santa Fe (in the movie, the men sing the song on the subway).
After getting off the subway, Mark and Roger give Collins and Angel some alone time, which results in I’ll Cover You. I have to give it to Heredia, who sings all of his songs entirely in falsetto, which is quite a tough thing to do. Anyway, this is a wonderful upbeat love song, and you’ll quickly find the romance between Collins and Angel to be very sweet and fitting. As the two of them sing “I think they meant it/When they said you can’t buy love/Now I know you can rent it/A new lease you are, my love/On life”, you’ll find yourself rooting for their relationship.
Christmas Bells is probably the most jumbled song on the album, but one of the most interesting songs musically. The track is used to update us on everyone’s current situations; switching from the homeless of New York (“No room at the Holiday Inn/Oh No/And it’s beginning to snow”), from Angel and Collins (“How you’ve touched me so/Kiss me it’s beginning to snow”), to Mark and Roger who are discussing Mimi. Roger finally decides to swallow his pride and apologize to Mimi, who is off chasing the neighborhood drug dealer. After getting her alone, he invites her to Maureen’s protest later that evening, and the song then turns into another round, though this one involves several different lines being sung at once. My description can’t really do it justice, but this song is really amazing to listen to and shows the talent of everyone that performed in the musical.
Everyone gathers for Maureen’s protest during Over the Moon. This track is more spoken word than a song, except for the refrain, “Only thing to do/Is jump over the moon/…Leap of faith”. Maureen’s satirical protest of Benny’s attempts to turn their apartments into a cyber studio is quite funny (“It’s like I’m being tied to the hood of a yellow rental truck/Being packed in with fertilizer and fuel oil/Being pushed over the cliff by a suicidal Mickey Mouse/…I’ve gotta find a way to jump over the moon”), and really shows off Menzel’s presence on the stage.
After a somewhat successful protest, the gang joins up at the Life Cafe for La Vie Boheme and La Vie Boheme B. This is definitely one of the best and most known songs on the soundtrack, and it’s easy to see why. The lyrics range from racy (“To sodomy/It’s between God and me”) to honest (“Let he among us without sin/Be the first to condemn”), but the most important thing about La Vie Boheme is it’s message to love everyone, and ourselves, for who we are- flaws and all. It’s definitely a positive anthem for anyone who has ever felt ashamed for being different, or anyone how has been treated like an outcast, which can apply to all of us at some point in our lives.
The most popular song from Rent is Seasons of Love. The song which is set to a gospel-inspired beat, starts off with the question, “How do you measure a year?”. The company goes on to provide several ways you could- “In midnights, in cups of coffee, in speeding tickets…etc.”, but tells us all to “Measure in love”. This is such a great song. Martin’s and Walker’s solos are beautiful and inspiring, and though the song is obviously apart of the show (which follows a year in their lives), you can also apply it to our everyday lives. As the cast sings, we should all try to “Measure life in love”.
Take Me Or Leave Me finds us in the middle of an argument between Joanne and Maureen. The two lovers are having yet another quarrel, and this time it’s about their differences. I have to admit that Joanne is a bit justified in feeling fed up with Maureen’s cheating ways, though Maureen cries, “No way/Can I be what I’m not/But hey- don’t you want your girlfriend hot?/”. Joanne tries to communicate that she’s way too organized to deal with Joanne’s fickle ways and both woman end up giving each other the incentive, “Take me, baby/Or leave me!”.
I going to skip ahead for the sake of all those that don’t want the plot spoiled for them. So we have the last song on the album, Finale B. Throughout various setbacks, the gang has reunited once and for all, and has realized that they need each other’s support more than anything to get through life. This is another touching and beautiful track, especially as the men sing the lines from Will I? as the women sing lyrics from Without You. The song ends with them singing, “I’d die without you/No day but today” several times, and provides for a stunning finale.
Rent- Original Broadway Cast is a great album of music, but it’s more than that. Jonathan Larson’s legacy lives on throughout his message of loving one another and living life to the fullest; after all, there’s no day but today.
1. Tune up #1
2. Voice Mail #1
3. Tune up #2
5. You Okay Honey?
6. Tune up #3
7. One Song Glory
8. Light My Candle
9. Voice Mail #2
10. Today 4 U
11. You’ll See
12. Tango: Maureen
13. Life Support
14. Out Tonight
15. Another Day
16. Will I?
17. On the Street
18. Santa Fe
19. I’ll Cover You
20. We’re Okay
21. Christmas Bells
22. Over the Moon
23. La Vie Boheme
24. I Should Tell You
25. La Vie Boheme B
1. Seasons of Love
2. Happy New Year
3. Voice Mail #3
4. Happy New Year B
5. Take Me or Leave Me
6. Seasons of Love B
7. Without You
8. Voice Mail #4
10. I’ll Cover You (Reprise)
12. Goodbye Love
13. What You Own
14. Voice Mail #5
16. Your Eyes
17. Finale B
18. Seasons of Love / Cast