Why 'RENT' Matters

Trish Befus

I first bought RENT on cassette. I saw the cast sing "Seasons of Love" on the Rosie O’Donnell show. I fell in love with the words. 

Then I fell in love with the show. The characters. The struggles. The friendships. The love.

As I have struggled with my own life, this became my soundtrack.

In 2010 I had the opportunity to stage manage tick, tick, BOOM! Seeing inside Jonathan Larson’s soul, changed the way I look at life. His family, friends, relationships, and his struggle as an artist. 

This was my first realization that I have his approval. We had one Sunday matinee. So we were those fools,  Who'd pay less at home Drinking coffee… 

We had broken the show into two acts. The top of Act One starts with a tick, tick sound, followed by Jonathan speaking, before the show lights come on. Act Two, we had a blackout, the actors went into place. Well, not that Sunday. I have one hand on my house lights and one on the lighting board. I plan to look to see my actor walk across the stage, to behind a screen, past the blue light. We have done this a few times.

Not on Sunday. All of a sudden, there is the loudest boom I have ever heard. I look at my sound operator, he looks at me. I mouth some swear words. I look to the stage and hope my actor is in place.

As we continued with Act Two, I realize what has happened. tick, tick,..BOOM. Jonathan’s BOOM. He’s with us.

By December 2010, I know I am directing RENT to be produced in spring of 2011. I have never directed on my own before. And now, it’s RENT.


Jonathan Larson’s RENT.


I begin to research as mush as I can. I read that someone asked if RENT is still relevant. 
I get it.

Friends are your family. Jonathan has incredible friends. They all have great stories to tell. They are all a family.

I have amazing friends, too. I want to celebrate my friends and their great stories. 

I visit as many locations as I can in New York. I had lunch at the Life Café. 

Can I do this? 

At our first rehearsal, we listen to the CD of the original cast. As they sing ‘and its beginning to snow’, it flurries. He is with me again. Actually, every time we blocked, rehearsed or just sang it, it snowed. For real. I receive and email from my producer. She’s tired of the snow. I am too, but it does make me smile.

Our tech week was the 15th Anniversary of RENT on Broadway.

BroadwayCon 2016 is the 20th Anniversary of RENT on Broadway and the 5th Anniversary of my production. I constantly think about the show. I think about how my life would be measured. I think about my mom. After she died in 2012, I thought about how many cups of coffee we drank together. I think about the love. I think about how she brought me flowers when she came to opening night. I have a tattoo, in her memory with “No Day But Today”. 

As long as we all have friends to love and be loved by, Rent will always be relevant.

The day before the RENT reunion at BroadwayCon, I have a few things I want to get done. I want a sim card, a manicure and a pair of Dr. Martens as I can’t be Joanne with out them! 

After I get the sim card, I go for a manicure. A French manicure. However, I use red, green, yellow and blue. A RENT manicure, like I did for my opening night. I have a picture on my phone to show the manicurist. When I thought they were dry, I showed the lady sitting beside me. I expect to have to explain what a RENT manicure means.

She leans in, and says “I’m Julie Larson, Jonathan’s sister.”

He has sent her to me. He really does approve of me and my passion for RENT.

I leave the shop and go buy a pair of Dr. Martens. I carry them back to my hotel in a medium brown bag.


Why Was The Rent Movie So Bad?

Chris Peterson

With last year's Annie movie getting skewered by the critics, it's always a good time to think about other movie adaptations of musicals that didn't go as well as the fan base was hoping for. One that sticks out in my mind in particular was the movie version of RENT. 

When I was young, my family had a small cabin in VT that we would spend long winter weekends at. I had just gotten my license, so I had the great joy of driving 3 hours to cabin by myself. To pass the time I would listen to cast recordings and RENT would always be one of the selected CD's. Eventually I started to wonder what a RENT movie would look like. Fast forward to 2015, 10 years since the movie was released, and I'm still wondering what a RENT movie would look like. Because what fans and audiences got in 2005 was not a movie version of the iconic musical. There was a lot wrong with the movie but here are just a couple reasons why the RENT movie just plain sucked.

It Got Stuck in Development Hell

You would think that after the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, studios would be lining up to make this into a feature film? Not the case with RENT. It was still the mid- 1990's and the property was still too risque for most studios to touch. However towards the late 1990's, there were rumblings that Spike Lee was going to direct it, which would have been funny given his reference in the show. Then, when that fizzled, directors from Sam Mendes to Martin Scorsese to Baz Luhrmann were all rumored to be interested. After every studio passed on it, it was finally picked up by Revolution Studios. The Jonathan Larson, generation defining musical was now going to be made by the same studio that created such cinematic classics as White Chicks and Daddy Day Care. RENT in those hands, was doomed before it was even filmed.

Chris Columbus

Give RENT's edgy risque material, the film obviously needed a director who knew how to navigate through material like that. Spike Lee would have been an excellent choice but instead, the studio gave the job to Chris Columbus. Yes....Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire...and RENT. Columbus was the absolutely wrong person to take this one.  He hired a writer with hardly any professional experience and ignored that the show takes place in 1989. He chose to film mostly in L.A. and San Diego instead of NYC. He was worried that certain scenes or references would be too "heavy" for his cast. So he cut any reference to April's demise, various songs(Christmas Bells, Contact, all the voice mails) and made the disastrous decision to have many of the songs be spoken word instead.

But the biggest issue with Columbus' approach on the film was that it was felt like a censored, soulless, corporate sell out. Chris Columbus said he took on the project because he was such a huge "fan" of the original show, but a real fan would not have castrated Larson's material to this extent. If the original show was punk rock, Columbus created a bubble gum pop remix. If anything, I can take solace in the fact that this movie basically killed Columbus' career:

Pre-RENT: Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire and the first two Harry Potter movies.

Post-RENT:  I Love You Beth Cooper, Percy Jackson and Pixels...


I love the original cast. I love what they did for the show and what they're still doing for it. But as much as I love them, they shouldn't have been cast for the movie version. They were slightly too old for their roles in 1994 and way too old for them in 2005. By the time filming began Adam Pascal was 35, Jesse L Martin was 36, playing characters who were supposed to be in their early 20's. Using the original cast lacked creativity on the part of the producers and director to find a fresh new cast. Among the new cast members, only Tracie Thoms stood out as Joanne. Rosario Dawson, also too old for her character, was so badly auto tuned, it made me question why she was cast to begin with.

The Movie Was Just Bad

Beyond the poor casting and director choices, the movie just turned out to be really bad. Everything felt artificial. The characters felt more smug and shallow on screen then they did in 1994. Any dramatic arch or reasons to care about these characters vanished. The pacing is terrible, it looks way too pretty for people living in squalor. I want to have Mark and Roger's apartment, that should say something.

A RENT movie would have been a dream come true, if it had been released in the late 1990's when a lot of the issues were still relevant. But one could say that the reason why RENT is so difficult to pull off today is because in many ways it succeeded in its mission. HIV/AIDS is no long the epidemic it once was and Gay issues have progressed.

2005 was 10 years too late for a RENT movie.