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Musical theater buffs have high hopes for 'Rent' film

Nov. 17, 2005

by MAEGAN MCGOWEN, entertainment writer

Theater lovers are eagerly awaiting the Wednesday release of the film adaptation of Tony award-winning musical Rent, one of Broadway's longest running and most successful productions.

Rent is a musical update of Puccini's opera La Boheme, transformed through a modern setting.

Dr. DeAnna Toten-Beard, assistant professor of theater arts, is one of many looking forward to the film.

Courtesy photo
Adam Pascal and Rosario Dawson star as Roger and Mimi in Revolution Studios' rock opera Rent, an adaptation of the 1996 Tony award-winning musical.

"It's La Boheme set in Greenwich Village, New York," she said. "The characters are squatters, people who are living in a building they aren't paying rent for because they are impoverished. During the course of the play, death and AIDS becomes a sort of crisis they're forced to deal with."

Longview sophomore Kate Boswell said she enjoyed the play because of how well it retold the opera.

"I liked Rent because La Boheme is one of my favorite operas, and it's a modern retelling," she said.

Boswell is optimistic about the movie and hopes it lives up to the stage production.

"They work rock songs into the play, and I think that's really cool. It's a sad story and kind of a bittersweet one," she said.

According to Toten-Beard, the transition from the stage to screen changes the character of the play.

"It's a completely different thing. It's a new creature when it becomes a movie," she said. "The best stage-to-film adaptations take full advantage of being a movie and don't try to be a play with a camera pointed at it."

A recent example of a play successfully transitioning to the silver screen is Chicago.

"Chicago is not at all like the play. They use flashbacks of Roxie to create the musical works, and that's a smart thing to do," Toten-Beard said.

Toten-Beard said she believes Rent will follow the same pattern as Chicago by taking advantage of being a film.

"I think they're definitely making it as a movie," she said. "They're making it realistic for a musical, and from the trailer I see lots of sets and locations which you don't at all have in the stage version."

The first play to transition to a movie was Oklahoma.

"The movie stuck to the play, because that's how they did things at the time," she said. "It was the first musical to become a movie, and it's the first time a soundtrack of a show was sold as a record."

The Rent cast features many original Broadway performers. Taye Diggs, Jessie L. Martin and Idina Menzel are a few actors from the original 1996 cast who also star in the movie.

"They're using a lot of the original cast, although there are some replacements," she said. "Some of them have gone to huge careers since doing it because of getting attention during Rent. Now they're in the movie, but when they did Rent, they weren't famous yet."

Toten-Beard favors theater because of the contact the audience has with the cast and the music.

"I prefer the plays because being in the room with a live orchestra or band and live singing physically makes your heart race. It excites you in a way that's very different from a movie, and I prefer that thrill."

Michael Schmalz, a full-time lecturer for the theater department, is also the production manager and technical director for various Baylor productions. Schmalz said different types of media offer distinct aesthetics.

"Film and television have a lot more money, so if you want to do Titanic, you can build yourself a boat. With theater, you use imagination and it has to happen in front of you," he said.

Schmalz prefers the stage to film because the audience can interact with the story.

"I'm kind of a theater snob, so I think that the production being live is a much better experience, akin to watching a movie alone or going to a movie house with people," he said.

"When you see something with a group of people, you get more involved. The element of theater is much more exciting."