Friday, September 19, 2008

La Vie Bohème Éternelle

Broadway’s RENT finale forever captured on film—and headed to a movie theater near you!
By Randy Rainbow
As Seen in HX Magazine 9/19/08

Rent may have ended its legendary lease on September 7, but the groundbreaking Pulitzer- and Tony-winning musical that rocked a generation has no intention of slipping quietly out the backdoor. Thanks to a new venture launched by Sony Pictures called The Hot Ticket, the final performance of Rent (integrated with a performance filmed two weeks prior) will be broadcast in movie theatres nationwide September 24, 25, 27 and 28. Executed by an Academy Award-winning production team, this revolutionary cinematic experience promises to be more thrilling than any live event ever brought to screen. I was backstage at the Nederlander Theatre just 48 hours before the highly anticipated finale ultimo to chat with the closing cast as they prepared to make history. Some of them had been with the show from its modest beginnings; one (an admitted “Rent-head” himself) was making his Broadway debut; another had joined members of the famed original cast onscreen in the 2005 film adaptation; some were fulfilling a long-awaited dream, having achieved their own Broadway stardom over the course of Rent’s 12-year span. But no matter the path that led them to that moment, all shared a common bond: They were humbled by a monumental honor—and excited as hell!

Randy Rainbow: What was your very first introduction to Rent?

EDEN ESPINOSA (Maureen): A friend was playing the CD in her car and couldn’t stop talking about “this new show.” I remember hearing the role of Maureen for the first time and really relating vocally to her... I was hooked. I grew up in Southern California and didn’t get to see it right away, but on my first trip to New York, all I cared about was seeing Rent. We bought scalper tickets and saw the original cast.

ADAM KANTOR (Mark): I saw the original company with my family when I was a fetus. I sat in the mezzanine with my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins... it was a big family outing. I immediately bought the soundtrack—cassette tape, at the time—and listened to it nonstop.

GWEN STEWART (Original “Seasons of Love” Soloist): I was working on another show at the time. A friend of mine told me there was this great new piece being auditioned about East Village kids struggling with life and dealing with AIDS and homelessness and homosexuality, and I said, “Wow! I think I’m gonna try to crash that!” She said, “Sorry! They’re only taking agent submissions.” She had an agent and I didn’t. So, she auditioned and didn’t get it. I got myself an agent and did get it... “Sorry!”

WILL CHASE (Roger): The cast recording. I was on tour when all the Rent hoopla first happened so I missed the whole phenomenon. Then when the tour ended, I was an unemployed person, and they called saying they were looking for a Squeegee Man/Roger/Mark cover. So I came and stood outside in the cold, cold balls of December and got a standing-room ticket and saw the show. I was in business-mode. I remember being blown away by it, but also thinking, “What should I sing tomorrow?”

TRACIE THOMS (Joanne): My college boyfriend was a business major, and was being wooed by all these big companies to come work for them. One of the companies got him tickets to this hot new show, Rent. I was in D.C., so he saw it without me and then immediately called to say, “I’ve just seen the most amazing, life-changing thing, ever. You need to get on a train and come up here right away to see it.” I was like, “Ugh, yeah, whatever.” But I got on the train... I saw it... and it changed my life. I said, “I have to be in that show.”

MICHAEL McELROY (Collins): I auditioned for it back when it was playing downtown. I was doing a show off-Broadway, and it closed, and they asked me to come in because Jesse Martin was leaving to do his TV show. I got the part, but had still never seen the show. So I came for the first time, and there was just a wall of energy coming off that stage. To be a part of that, and to be able to play this role; this gay black man who’s smart and educated and fun... I was so impressed.

What’s it mean to you to now be in the final cast of the show?

TRACIE THOMS: It means everything. I’d been auditioning for the show for eight years and never got it. Then I wound up getting the movie, oddly enough. And I always felt a little funny doing [the movie] with the original cast without ever having done the show... like I cheated a little bit, or skipped a step. Then I found out it was closing and thought, “This is my last chance!” Luckily, they extended the run and there was a little window of time when I was on hiatus from Cold Case, and everyone worked together to make it happen. I’m very much aware that it is the greatest time of my life.

EDEN ESPINOSA: Sounds cheesy, but it’s a dream come true. I feel like I’ve been waiting 12 years to be a part of this show. Like everyone else, I’d auditioned a million times for it from the ages of 19 to 21 and it never happened. Then I was asked about possibly doing the movie before they decided to go with the original cast, so obviously that didn’t pan out. I kind of resigned myself to thinking that maybe I’m just not meant to do it. Then the call came to be a part of this closing company and I was just... over the moon.

GWEN STEWART: It’s really quite awesome for me, having started from the beginning at the New York Theatre Workshop downtown, opening on Broadway, leaving, and now returning for the very end. Actually, the woman who was doing my role just before I came in got another show. Thank God she did, because otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I’m a firm believer that when something is destined to happen, it works itself out. I’m thrilled that it was my destiny to come back and close the show.

ADAM KANTOR: It’s so thrilling— I can’t even talk about it. I mean, it’s my first job! I’ve been a fan of the show from the beginning. It’s been there in my life through every major moment as I’ve grown up. So to have finally reached the age of these characters and now be closing the show as Mark is unbelievable.

WILL CHASE: Just to be asked to do this was cool as hell. I came in about a year ago to play Roger but it was just for like a month. So I was psyched to be asked back to be the final Roger. And this cast kicks ass!

MICHAEL McELROY: It’s closure for me. I came into Rent in ‘97 and was here for about three years. To be back now and to be a part of this cast is like a bookend in my life. I’m so honored.

What are your thoughts on the national cinecast?

ADAM KANTOR: I am so frickin’ excited that they’re going to capture the show in this form. It’s so rare that a Broadway show is filmed so artfully, in such high quality and with a group of people like this. I think this cast is unreal. I’m proud to be amongst them, and so grateful that this experience will be encapsulated in such a unique fashion, so that I’ll have it to look back on for the rest of my life.

EDEN ESPINOSA: I’m really looking forward to it. It’s the first of its kind, and I don’t think it could happen at a better time or for a better show. The audience for Rent is so vast, and this will give fans everywhere the chance to fall in love with it once more. I’m also so proud that this cast will get to go down in history as the last to do the show... for now, at least.

MICHAEL McELROY: It’s not easy to film a live show this way, but we have a great director. If it turns out the way everyone’s saying it will then it’s going to be amazing.

TRACIE THOMS: Sure, the [2005] movie was fun… but there’s nothing like seeing this show performed live, even if it’s live on film. The first night we shot was a little daunting, but amazing. I only hope it looks as exciting onscreen as it feels onstage, and I think it will.

WILL CHASE: It’s awesome! I don’t think anything has ever been shot like this before. Usually, musicals are rewritten for the big screen, so it’s difficult to capture a live performance as is. But the footage I’ve seen so far looks spectacular!

GWEN STEWART: I’m very happy that this production which Jonathan [Larson] shed blood, sweat and tears over will last forever, and that people everywhere will be able to see it. There’s nothing like live theatre. And I figure: If you can’t actually be here, sitting in that seat and having this experience, the cinecast will be the next best thing.

What are you anticipating the final performance will be like?

WILL CHASE: We got a little taste of it last night. The whole week’s been kind of emotional, but last night we got this ovation at the beginning of the show that I wasn’t expecting yet. It kind of took my breath away and made me a little teary, and I thought, “Okay... This is good practice.” Because on Sunday I just want to show up, put the makeup on, do the show and go to the party. Otherwise, I’ll be crying the whole time like a Hallmark commercial.

ADAM KANTOR: I’m just gonna try to get through it... just really “play it,” because they’re filming it. And I also hope, for the sake of the show’s legacy, that it’s played the way it’s supposed to be played and not just a sob-fest.

EDEN ESPINOSA: I’m expecting Sunday will be an incredibly electrifying, emotional day. Like Will said, last night was a little overwhelming. It was good practice for us though, because on Sunday we can’t just be bawling messes the entire time. We need to stay focused on the story and the relationships and the audience. It’ll be interesting to see at which moments we can allow the emotion to come through. But I think we’re gonna be awesome. We rely on each other’s energy and bounce off of each other a lot, so as long as we connect as a cast, we’ll be fine.

MICHAEL McELROY: I’m a little bit scared of the final show. There will be so much energy and so much emotion. From a technical point of view, it’s hard to sing through that. I just want to give the best show I can and keep all that energy in check. I’m sure it’s gonna be magical.

TRACIE THOMS: I think it’s just gonna be a whirlwind, and probably one of those things that will take me two weeks after it happens to remember entirely. I can’t even imagine…

GWEN STEWART: It will take every bit of professional strength I have not to just sink into the words and the music, and cry, and take that journey that the audience will take, because I actually have to sing and perform. It’s really going to be a job to give the audience the best closing night we possibly can. And then, when the lights go down for the last time, we bawl... and then we party!

Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway @ New York’s Clearview Chelsea Cinemas, Regal Union Sq, Regal E-Walk and AMC 84th St starting Sep. 24. For more info, log onto

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