Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Anthony Rapp……….Mark Cohen
Adam Pascal……….Roger Davis
Rosario Dawson……….Mimi Marquez
Jesse L. Martin……….Tom Collins
Wilson Jermaine Heredia……….Angel Dumott Schunard
Idina Menzel……….Maureen Johnson
Tracie Thoms……….Joanne Jefferson
Going from the stage to the screen is a tough feat to accomplish. While Chicago, A Streetcar named Desire, and A Few Good Men took a stage presentation and rode it to critical acclaim (as well as Academy Award nominations), others like Phantom of the Opera haven’t translated as well as the aforementioned plays have. Part of translating sucess comes from having the proper timing; what plagued Phantom was that it had been quite some years after its peak as a Broadway musical that it was given the cinematic treatment. Trying to avoid that sort of feeling, and the lackluster box office results, comes Rent.
An update of the French opera “La Boheme,” Rent focuses on a year in the life of a group of friends. Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal) are roommates in New York who are struggling to make ends meet. Mark was recently dumped by Maureen (Idina Menzel) for a lawyer named Joanne (Tracie Thoms) while Roger is trying to become a musician while figuring out the advances of a stripper named Mimi (Rosario Dawson). Tom (Jesse Martin) teaches college and is with a transvestite named Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) while Benny (Taye Diggs), who used to be in this circle of friends, wants to to evict Roger and Mark to appease his father in law. Set admist the East Village, what made the play such a revelation in 1996 was its treatment of those with AIDS as Roger, Mimi, Tom and Angel are all HIV Positive. Broadway really hadn’t seen something that featured gay couples, interacial love and people living with AIDS as opposed to merely just dying from it.
What helps is that much of the original Broadway cast returns for the big screen version. Diggs, Heredia, Martin, Menzel, Pascal and Rapp all originally appeared from the original cast and are playing their original roles. Dawson and Thoms are new to their parts and fit in seemlessly as well; this is a cast that knows the play inside and out and shows plenty of poise on screen. There’s no hesitation or lack of character direction; this is old hand for the cast and they do it well.
What’s also done well is the music. It is a musical, after all, and the stage’s rounding score is translated to the screen quite effectively. It’s infectious and intriguing at the same time. It is coupled with the film’s tight-direction and seamless plot; it’s definitely a solid play on those merits alone. And as a film it feels exactly like that: a great stage performance.
There’s a certain presence that doesn’t translate from the stage to the screen; it’s more of a reminder of how good the stage presentation is as opposed to the sort of cinematic wonder it could be. There are moments that are intended to be gripping and emotional that fall a little flat; there’s a certain measure of connection that is lost from being on stage to being on screen. There’s a sense in watching the film that it would be easy to get swept up in the events; a large protest that turns into a riot, a rent strike, a death of a character, all feel a bit hollow due to the lack of connection from the audience to its actors.