When I was nine years old, my parents brought me to see Rent on Broadway. Even though I didn’t understand half of the things going on (I remember asking my older sister what “smack” was) I was entranced. I listened to the soundtrack on full blast in my room, trying as hard as I could to turn the volume down during the swear words (this was a difficult task during “The Tango Maureen.”) As I grew older, I have had the privilege of seeing Rent several more times, and after each viewing, I still notice new things and develop a greater understanding of the show.
Today Fox announced that Rent will be their next live musical airing on January 27, 2019 (no, 2019 is not a typo).
Rent is Jonathan Larson’s retelling of La Boheme if La Boheme was set in The East Village in the early 90s. The show is about a group of friends trying to navigate living with HIV, struggling to with addiction, and trying to scrounge up enough money to keep a food in their stomach. The play was truly groundbreaking as it dealt with issues of sexuality, gentrification, HIV, addiction and more with an incredibly diverse cast. That said, Fox adapting Rent into a live TV musical makes me nervous.
This is not the first time that Rent has been adapted to screen. In 2005, Rent was made into a feature film, directed by Chis Colombus and featuring most of the original Broadway cast. While there was much hype surrounding the film, the film failed to deliver (at least for me). The movie tried to be progressive by injecting in a lesbian wedding between Maureen and Joanne that was just out of place. More importantly, the song “Contact” which is the climax of Angel’s storyline was nixed, probably due to the provocative nature of the song. These edits distracted from the heart of the play, which is the power of human connection.
The main question I have for Fox’s version of Rent is how will they deal with the “adult content” of the play? Will they change and replace every curse word in the script? Will they edit out the sexual innuendos in “La Vie Boheme”? Will they be brave enough to keep “Contact” in the show even though it is the most sexually charged song?
I don’t want to make assumptions about what the production will, or will not, include, but I hope that the Fox live musical will not be sanitized to the point that the Jonathan Larson’s message is lost.