(R) 5 Stars
Yes, they sing. In fact, they sing a lot.
This will be the hardest thing to accept for many movie-goers. Rent, the 1996 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, remains intact here, with almost all of the music and dialogue untouched.
This is a glorious thing.
Rent's story (and the story of the unexpected death of its creator, Jonathan Larson) is a passionate musical about friendship, love, life and AIDS. Instead of watering it down for the masses, the creative team behind the movie made the transition from stage to screen seamlessly and elegantly. Director Chris Columbus (the first two Harry Potter movies) uses the flexibility of film to elaborate on the storytelling, while keeping the spirit of the Broadway musical firmly in the foreground.
Many of the cast from the original 1996 stage production came on board for the movie. Idina Menzel, Tony nominee for the original Rent (and the 2004 Tony recipient for Best Lead Actress in a Musical as Elphaba in Wicked) reprises her role as Maureen; Adam Pascal, who plays Roger, was a 1996 nominee for Best Leading Actor in a Musical; Wilson Heredia as Angel won the 1996 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical; and Anthony Rapp, the original Mark, also returns. Filling out the cast are Rosario Dawson (Mimi), Taye Diggs (Benny), Jesse L. Martin (Tom Collins) and Tracie Thoms (Joanne). Together, they make a new Rent family whose sound is almost identical to the original soundtrack - but when it deviates, it's still full of all the emotion and quality that made the Broadway version so powerful.
In fact, where the movie does take liberties with the original staging it's ingenious. During Mark and Joanne's tango, a well-placed knock on the head allows them to enter a quick dreamscape. "Without You," Mimi's song, allows the audience to see deeper into Mimi's drug addiction and the struggle it caused between her and Roger. The opening title song shows almost riot-like conditions in the alley, with burning trash raining down on Benny's arrival. These touches add to Rent the movie, giving it a distinct personality of its own, while never forgetting the original Broadway feel of the show.
The cast is amazing, and Columbus deserves high praise for taking a chance by allowing the musical to remain a musical.