Going to see RENT is a singular experience.
Even before you purchase tickets, you?ll hear how marvelous the production was from family and friends.
When you finally go see the show, you?ll be absorbed into the production by the songs, drama, passion, love and a fabulous drag queen named Angel.
After you?ve seen RENT, you won?t be able to shake the music from your thoughts and might catch yourself humming a few bars from ?La Vie Boheme.?
You might not have realized, though, that the musical bouncing around in your mind is a modified version of an opera created over a century ago.
So, how does Jonathan Larson?s RENT compare to Giacomo Puccini?s opera ?La Boheme??There are definite similarities.
Starving artists have been around for ages, and it doesn?t make a difference whether they are in 1830s Paris or present-day New York City. Puccini and Larson both create a vision that stems from the themes of poverty, disease and relationship issues.
Both creators chronicle a year in the lives of their characters, starting with events on Christmas Eve.
RENT and ?La Boheme? open with interaction between the two male leads. In RENT, roommates Roger and Mark decide to burn rock and roll posters and one of Mark?s screenplays to keep their apartment warm, while their landlord Benny phones demanding rent.
In ?La Boheme,? roommates Rodolfo and Marcelo burn Rodolfo?s five-act tragedy to warm up their attic apartment. They too are dealing with a difficult landlord.
Soon after this scene, both the musical and opera introduce the audience to Mimi. Puccini and Larson achieve this with a scene in which she goes and asks her future lover ? Roger in RENT, Rodolfo in the opera ? to light her candle.
Puccini?s Mimi is a shy seamstress afflicted with tuberculosis. The Mimi of RENT, however, is a vivacious S&M dancer living with AIDS.
The candle scenes in both works are very similar, yet Rodolfo doesn?t share Mimi?s illness in Puccini?s version. During a scene at the Life Caf in RENT, Roger and Mimi discover that they will both someday die of AIDS.
Not only does Larson put a new spin on the old ?La Boheme? by having Mimi?s lover Roger afflicted with a fatal illness, but he heightens the suspense through other characters having AIDS as well. Though tuberculosis was the scourge of Puccini?s generation of Bohemians, the audience only encounters one character with the illness.
By introducing many characters with AIDS and even incorporating a scene with a support group in the play, Larson makes the audience recognize the horrible and tragic reality of AIDS. Larson?s characters live for the moment, knowing that each new day might be their last.
Angel, the kind and loving drag queen, dies midway through the play. In the last scene, lovers Joanne and Maureen find Mimi weak and near death in the park.
Puccini?s Mimi dies in ?La Boheme.? Larson?s Mimi, however, comes to the brink of death and survives. In a direct reference to ?La Boheme,? Roger cries out ?Mimi! Mimi!? while ?Musetta?s Waltz,? an aria from the opera, plays in the background.
Suddenly, Mimi sits up, and tells her friends about how Angel appeared in a vision of white light. Angel told Mimi to ?turn around? and keep living.
Unlike Puccini, Larson gives his audience hope for the future. We know that Mimi, Roger, Tom Collins and the others cannot escape certain death. Larson makes us recognize that everyone ? diseased or not ? will die, and no one can choose when.
He gives us the most powerful message at the end, with the lyrics, ?I can?t control my destiny. I trust my soul. My only goal is just to be. No day but today.?