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SONIC DEATH MONKEY SOUNDTRACK REVIEWS -- Is the lease on musical movie fans about to be up?

by Laura Kyle

The answer to that question partially rides on the price movie studios will pay for Rent. The movie musical, that is. I haven’t busted open its soundtrack yet, on the account that it won’t be released until next week – still more than a month before the film opens up in theaters… but after examining the cast, track listings, and other creative forces backing it up, I have more than a few words to say about the thing.

This movie’s important. If it does well – we can expect, perhaps, the likes of Les Miserables and other popular Broadway shows to follow its lead and climb up onto big screens across America, securing what appears to be a new musical revival in Hollywood cinema.

But if it sucks, well, it’s going to be the second movie musical in a row (Phantom of the Opera being the first) to disappoint mainstream audiences. Moulin Rouge! and Chicago were wild successes, with the critics and the masses, but as Phantom demonstrated, it’s not an easy task to translate the stage to the screen.

Moulin Rouge! was designed for the cinema – Chicago was sufficiently reinterpreted for moviegoers, but Rent will probably be more in the vein of Phantom of the Opera, in that it’s largely sung and the original cast (ie, unknowns) is almost entirely intact. However, this last, vital part is what might make Rent much more enjoyable than Phantom, at least we can hope. Not to mention, Jonathan Larson’s modern rock opera is much more accessible than any production by Andrew Lloyd Webber– regarding the music and the content.

Producers include Robert De Niro and say what you will about Rent's director Chris Columbus; he’s managed to pop out some great flicks over the years – Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire and Harry Potter.

We’ll ignore that he’s co-writing the adapted screenplay (with newcomer Steve Chbosky).

Even barring his contributions to the writing of Rent though, he’s still a questionable choice for director. I’m just hoping he’ll be able to balance an inevitably noticeable style (something irresistible if you’re filming people singing and dancing) without taking away from the integrity of the story. He’s got a great stable of performers though, so god-willing, they’ll do a lot of the grunt work for him.

Rosario Dawson (Alexander, Sin City) is the Hollywood insider -- in other words, the outsider -- in the cast, but anyone familiar with the original recording of the stage production of Rent probably aren’t going to be too protective over her character Mimi Marquez. The original Mimi, Daphne Rubin-Vega, was a gruff alto, who oozed promiscuity and character in every song, but her technical talents as a singer won’t be hard to match. Taye Diggs is another familiar face, but he’s still reprising a role he originated – that of Benny. The rest of the bunch, Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, and Idina Menzel in particular, all followed Rent's first run at the Nederlander Theatre in New York up with other successful Broadway roles and they’re now going to get a hefty whiff of a new kind of stardom.

The studios that wisely snatched up the rights to Rent have shady track records…you’ve got Revolution Studios, which is responsible for recent masterpieces like Are We There Yet? and Columbia/Sony Pictures has had some highs, but a fair share of lows. Hopefully Rent will be grouped into the former.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that almost all the songs from the original show are present on the 2005 movie soundtrack, which I will soon order and promptly review. With Green Day’s Rob Cavallo producing the tracks, it’s likely we’ll get an even more updated take on Larson’s mid-90’s score. A lot of the musical filler has been cut out, which means the movie Rent will feature a great deal more of spoken dialogue than the stage version of Rent (which if my memory serves me correctly, has almost no plain talking). Numbers like "You Okay Honey?" and "Contact" have been trashed and so have a good deal of the smaller interludes and song transitions – but as charming as they are, I understand the decision to abbreviate the soundtrack and make it more appropriate for cinema.

What I’m most concerned about is what's been added, not taken away, from the soundtrack...a song entitled “Love Heals” – this is a new one, probably not written by Larson (edit: this is an early piece of Larson's) and probably very cheesy. I think it’s banking on an Academy Award nomination for best song, and I imagine it’ll only play over the end credits.

So, here’s hoping, crossing my fingers, knocking on wood, that Rent is more than a marginal success, because if it is isn’t – it’s only going to take another movie musical flop to signal the premature end of a potentially exciting time in film, where not only is the musical resurfacing in the box office, but it’s also evolving into a whole other art form, far different from classics like My Fair Lady and theSound of Music. Let’s pray we don’t have another Evita (which I loved, by the way) or Phantom on our hands and that this motion picture would be to the late Jonathan Larson's liking.

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originally posted: 09/16/05 07:44:21
last updated: 11/14/05 18:43:44
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