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RENT: Filmed LIVE on Broadway (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 22, 2009 by  



“For fans of the Broadway musical ‘RENT’, ‘RENT: Filmed LIVE on Broadway’ not only captures the spirit of creator Jonathan Larson, the cast and 12 successful years, it’s a celebration of life and love.  Although the Broadway musical is no more, this Blu-ray edition is a never ending flame that captures the love and passion that has went towards the creation of this musical.  It’s translation from Broadway to Blu-ray 1080p High Definition and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is fantastic! Surely, to be a hit and a must-own for all fans of ‘RENT’!”

Images courtesy of © 2008 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: RENT: Filmed LIVE on Broadway

DURATION: 152 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English SDH, English and French Subtitles

COMPANY:  The Hot Ticket, Radical Media Production/Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home entertainment

RATED: NOT RATED

Release Date: February 3, 2009

Directed by Michael John Warren

Produced by Jon Kamen and Justin Wilkes

Rock, Music & Lyrics by Jonathan Larson

Executive Producers Robert Friedman, Frank Scherma

Supervising Producer: Chris Rouchard

Originally Directed for the Stage by Michael Greif

Originally Produced for the Stage by Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum, Allan S. Gordon and New  York Theatre Workshop

Music Produced by Giles Martin

RENT: Filmed LIVE on Broadway Trailer (trailer courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

No experience quite matches the thrill of a live Broadway spectacular seen up close and in person. Now, this stunning performance shot in High Definition puts you in the front row as the smash hit RENT brings down the curtain on its history-making, 12-year run! You’ve never had seats this great…never seen and heard each character so intimately…never shared every emotion in such a personal way! After winning four Tony Awards® and the Pulitzer Prize, Jonathan Larson’s powerhouse musical tour de force entered the record books as the 7th-longest-running show in all Broadway history. In this unforgettable theatrical experience – made possible by special arrangement with the Broadway producers and Actors Equity Association – take an intimate journey through a single year in the lives of a small circle of friends and artists living their dreams, battling their demons and celebrating life on the streets of New York City’s East Village. Meet would-be filmmaker Mark, sweet transvestite Angel, exotic dancer Mimi and a host of other unforgettable characters as they confront the challenges of poverty, mortality and…paying the RENT. This once-only historic event, captured live with a special appearance by members of the original cast, will remind you that there is truly “no day but today.”

When you watch a live performance of a concert or musical and if that Blu-ray goes as far as it can to replicate that live experience, you know you’re going to have a enjoyable time.  “RENT: Filmed LIVE on Broadway” is a fantastic experience on Blu-ray from awesome picture quality, great sound utilization for those with a home theater and a disc loaded with featurettes with substance.  A solid and fantastic release for those who are passionate for the seventh longest running musical ever.

“RENT” had been in development since 1988 and made a reality in 1994.  But the musical wouldn’t become a success until its Broadway debut in Jan. 1996.  “RENT” is a reimagining of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” and its modern setting and enjoyable characters and addictive music has captured so many hearts with its twelve year run.   It has won a Pulitzer Prize, four Tony Awards and credit has to go to the hardworking and passionate staff and its cast members who have put their heart and soul to “RENT”, but this release is also a celebration of life and love, written by “RENT” creator Jonathan Larson.

As mentioned, Larson who would reimagine the story of “La Boheme” about the lives of young and poor artists in Paris during the tuberculosis scare and replace it by using a modern setting in New York in the East Village in an artsy area which caters to a variety of artists.   This time, may they be musical, filmmakers, dancers, performers, etc.  and instead of tuberculosis, featuring people who have AIDS or are HIV positive.   Making a modern story but also incorporating his own life experiences of a person trying to survive by composing his own musical and working at the local Moondance Diner in order to support himself.

All that hardwork paid off as Larson eventually had his big break on January 25, 1996.  This day would be the off-Broadway debut of “RENT”…finally live on Broadway and in an interview taken the day before, learning that “RENT” would take place 100 years after Puccini’s “La Boheme” on that exact day.  Everyone was excited and the debut of “RENT” would have a tragic and memorable opening day.   The morning of the debut, Larson died from an an aortic aneurysm due to Marfan syndrome.  But Larson’s parents gave the crew and the talent their blessing because their son would want the show to go on and for twelve years, the show would rise to critical acclaim.

Each person who has worked on the show has commented that “RENT” gave them something special.  Not just those who worked on it but those who were touched by it.  Because Larson created a musical that celebrates life and love despite any obstacle or tragedy, one must “remember the love”.    From its years of starting out at the 150-seat New York Theatre Workshop, “RENT” would move to the Nederlander Theater in April 1996.  With many shows, many people entertained, many people who have taken part as a cast member.  So, many memories created…

For twelve years, “RENT” would entertain thousands of people and touch so many lives but as the saying goes…”all good things come to an end” and on Sept. 7, 2008, “RENT” on Broadway would have their final performance.

Everything within that one week span leading up to the final performance is documented on “RENT: Filmed LIVE on Broadway”.  Featured on the Blu-ray is the final live performance that would feature the current cast but also bringing together members of the original cast together for one last farewell.  This musical is probably one of the best filmed musicals and the actual experience watching it on Blu-ray is fantastic (which I’ll discuss more in the video & audio segment of this review)

The story of “RENT” focuses on a group of friends that hang out at the loft where a few of the main characters live.  The main characters are:

Mark Cohen – The narrator of the story.  A filmmaker who used to date a woman named Maureen Johnson, a performing artist who happens to be bisexual and is dating Joanne Jefferson.  He tends to document the lives of his friends but in reality, he is scared knowing that his friends are HIV positive and that he is among his group of friends that is not.

Roger Davis – A good friend of Mark who happens to be a musician who is HIV positive and recovering from heroin addiction.  Hasn’t been the same since his girlfriend April killed herself when she found out that both were HIV positive (possibly because of their drug use).  Roger struggles to come up with a final song that he wants to create before he dies from the virus.   A former bad boy who takes an interest towards Mimi.

Mimi Marquez – An exotic dancer who is HIV positive and a heroin addict.  A bad girl who starts to change her ways when she meets Roger who she starts to date.  She used to date Benjamin Coffin II (and may even have an affair with him) but then as problems escalate between Mark, Roger and Benjamin and tensions start to creep up in her relationship with Roger, Mimi returns to her drugged out life.

Tom Collins – A gay philosophy professor who has AIDS.  Dreams of moving to Santa Fe to start up a new restaurant.  Used to live with Mark, Roger and Maureen and now dating Angel.

Maureen Johnson – Former girlfriend of Mark, a bisexual woman now dating Joanne Jefferson.  Has a wild and flirty attitude.

Joanne Jefferson – A lawyer who is a lesbian and seems to be jealous with how Maureen is with another women.  She eventually becomes friends with Mark as she goes to him to discuss her problems with Maureen.

Angel – A gay drag queen who is a percussionist who has AIDS and is dating Tom Collins.  He lives for the day but at the same time, he manages to bring something positive to everyone’s life but the turning point is when his sickness and eventually succumbing to the disease, hits home with everyone and knowing how precious life is or how you live it.

Benjamin Coffin III – A former roommate of Mark, Roger and Maureen and now the local landlord who has become a yuppie.  He has changed so much that he causes problems for his old friends when he buys the apartment that they live and expects them to pay rent (knowing well that they are broke).  He promised them that they could live in the apartment for free but he broke that promise and has their power shut off.    To make matters worse, he wants to make a lot where homeless people live thus Maureen plans to have a performance protest against him.  Mark and Roger on the other hand decide that they will protest by not paying any rent.  And because he also dated Mimi (and eventually has an affair with her) it starts to tear the friendship apart and Benjamin locks Mark, Roger and Mimi out of their apartments.

What makes “RENT” so successful is the message within its story and the perspective of life experienced by each character and the emotions that they face.  Fear, love, jealousy, sadness, happiness, etc. But most of all, the musical touches everyone due to the well-crafted songs with its powerful lyrics to go along with the equally powerful performances from the various actors.    The songs are amazing, catchy and by the end of watching the musical, I wouldn’t be surprised if people wanted to start singing the popular song from the musical “Seasons of Love”.

When Larson created “RENT”, it was a modern musical that was unique and fresh that it was something new for those who watch musicals.  Because of the memorable performances and interesting characters belting out well-sung, powerful songs, I can see how the musical would become an extreme hit!

From the actors getting on stage and everyone applauding to the ten minute intermission and then the final farewell in which the current cast and the original cast share the same stage and all sing “Seasons of Love”, the final live performance was powerful and as for the Blu-ray, the additions of the bonus features will definitely attract the hardcore and even curious fans!

VIDEO & AUDIO:

The film is presented in 1080p high definition (1:78:1).  The picture quality was amazing on Blu-ray.  Picture quality was clear, colors were vibrant but most importantly, almost similar to any successful concert performance, what can make it or break a performance is how many camera angles are utilized, how they are edited and how well they cut from character to character.  And the good news is that this musical was successful in accomplishing the job.  Lighting was just right!  Performances were fantastic and the ability to cover each performer interacting on stage knowing that a camera is probably in their way, everything went quite well.  So, with the Blu-ray video transfer receiving high marks, how does the audio even compare?

As for the audio, audio is featured in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  And I have to let you know that if you own a home theater system with surround sound, how awesome the sound quality is.  In fact, for those who want that theatre experience like if you were watching it live.  The audio clearly features the dialogue and music from your front speakers.  But your rear surround speakers feature the audience.  I was blown away to hear the audience giggling, cheering and their overall excitement during the performance.  Although it doesn’t beat being there for an actual live show, at least there was great care in making sure the audio was great.  So, it’s like being in the front row and hearing the audience behind you.  Well done!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

This is probably what is going to win the RENT-heads and those who admire or are curious about “RENT” will truly enjoy.  Lengthy special features targeted towards the fans of “RENT” and are featured in standard and hi-definition.  The majority of them are in HD.  Included are:

  • The Wall – This featurette focuses on how the fans have left hand written messages on the walls of Nederlander Theatre.  A good size featurette showcasing the various signatures written throughout the years and the goodbye messages from fans of the musical.  Very touching!
  • The Final Curtain -This featurette focuses on the original cast who were backstage and preparing to join the current cast for the final farewell and all of them united in their final goodbyes and singing “Seasons of Love” together.  Very touching and emotional to watch.
  • Home – This featurette was about how they chose the Nederland Theatre and how it was not quite hospitable and needed a lot of fixing up.  But even today, the interesting things about the theatre that the cast and crew share their experiences.    Answering questions of why the ceilings were not fully painted, the obstacles the crew had to face in getting it ready and much more.  An informative but also fun featurette.
  • The Final Lottery – Since moving to Nederland Theatre, there has been a lottery to RENT-heads who would camp outside in order to get the discounted $20 tickets for the show. Those who got tickets got to sit in the front two rows.  This segment features the final lottery, hundreds of people in line hoping to get a ticket for the final day and how emotional the experience was for the fans who won tickets for the final day and also how emotional it was for the two men in charge of giving out the tickets for the lottery.
  • Casting – A behind-the-scenes look at the casting for “RENT”.  Every person who auditioned have been kept in dozens upon dozens of binders.  Each person who was cast had to be seen multiple times and you get quite a bit of insight on the casting and the experience of the current talent and how many times (and how many years) they auditioned to get a role in the musical.
  • Rent: The Final Days on Broadway – This is the lengthiest featurette featuring a specialized casting for the final week of “RENT” bringing back some old cast members but finding the right cast for the final week and the final day.  Bringing everyone together and an in-depth look at how emotional everyone was during the filming.  A lot of interviews with cast and crew.  Especially those  remembering “RENT” creator Jonathan Larson and bringing back the Larson family one last time for them to meet and greet the crew, staff and talent.  Touching and overall an awesome featurette!  But to see how emotional distraught some of the hardcore fans were on the final day was incredibly touching.  So many people touched by this musical and also the lives changed for the positive because of “RENT” was amazing.
  • Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation PSA – This featurette is about the foundation for those in the performing arts who can win a grant (to be used for anything, groceries, rent, babysitting, etc.) to help out performing artists.
  • National Marfan Foundation PSA – “RENT” creator Jonathan Larson died from an aortic aneurysm believed to have resulted from Marfan syndrome.    And this informative PSA was letting people know about the genetic disorder and the National Marfan Foundation.

I was first introduced to “RENT” back in 2000.  As most musicals, my first introduction is typically by the soundtracks first but I have dreamed of  watching “RENT” in Broadway for many years and I ultimately thought that it was a musical I can just catch whenever and expected a long musical run.  So, when I found out that the long running musical would no longer be live in Broadway as of Sept. 7, 2008, I was saddened and felt that I lost my opportunity.

But after watching “RENT: Filmed LIVE on Broadway”, words can not describe how happy I was to hear about a Blu-ray release and how the live performance would be in High Definition.

The Blu-ray release was absolutely fantastic!  This is probably the next best thing of catching a Broadway show without having been there because not only was the picture quality outstanding but the way the audio was created, the awesome energy from the audience is felt through your surround sound.  The music just comes alive and everything was just done right when it comes to the video and audio presentation to DVD and Blu-ray translation from the final Broadway performance.  Camera angle cuts, editing, lighting, audience participation and more.  And if you thought the awesome performance of the musical was all your getting, “RENT” fans will not be disappointed because you get a good number of lengthy featurettes included on the special features section.

Although the Broadway performance of “RENT” is over, the long running musical is captured perfectly in “RENT: Filmed LIVE on Broadway” and is absolutely fantastic on Blu-ray! I wouldn’t be surprise if this video became a cult-hit among the fans of the musical for many years to come. This release is not just a live performance, it’s a celebration of life and a celebration of love.

If you are a fan of “RENT” or like myself, have always dreamed of watching “RENT” live, “RENT: Filmed LIVE on Broadway” is not only fantastic, it’s highly recommended!






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