“RENT,” a story of young adults coping with AIDS in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, moves from Broadway to the cinema and is accompanied by a revised soundtrack that replaces Jonathan Larson’s original score. Much of the cast is the same as the original Broadway cast, which recorded the first soundtrack and starred in the production beginning in 1996.

The familiarity of Anthony Rapp’s whiny voice as Mark Cohen and Adam Pascal’s strong, sexy voice as Roger Davis remind me of the greatness of the original production.

The characters Benny, Angel, Collins and Maureen are also played by their original actors, Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin and Idina Menzel, respectively. Tracie Thoms replaces Fredi Walker as Joanne, which becomes especially evident in the song “Tango Maureen.” The biggest disappointment of the soundtrack is the absence of Daphne Rubin-Vega, whose strong Latin voice originally captured the attention of audiences as the character Mimi. Instead, Rosario Dawson attempts to fill her shoes, but her soft voice sometimes seems inaudible in comparison to that of Rubin-Vega.

Newcomers to “RENT” will probably not notice anything exceptionally disappointing in Dawson’s performance, but fanatics will recognize Rubin-Vega’s absence, especially in the song “Another Day.” Dawson does a good job in making the melodies her own, but she has difficulty convincing the listener that she is truly meant to perform this song. She takes frequent, loud breaths that distract the ear and are ill-fitting with the song’s nature, which is meant to be aggressive.

However, Dawson surprised me with the new twist she added to “Out Tonight,” which I thought would be awful, considering that the song calls for a strong, loud voice.

“Life Support” was changed from its original version by eliminating Mark’s confused solo when he arrives at Collins’ therapy group. Therefore, we lose insight into the aggrieved Mark, who has difficulty talking about AIDS, as he is the only one of his friends who is not dying from the disease. Through dialogue in the film, however, we will probably get a revealing glimpse into his difficult situation and his relationship with the other characters.

Thoms substitutes for Walker in “Tango Maureen,” whose low voice stands out to fans accustomed to Walker’s higher voice. This change does not make a profound impact on the song but merely distracts the listener who has been previously exposed to different vocals.

The new version of the song incorporates a spoken segment in which Mark and Joanne discuss where they learned to tango. Joanne says that she learned how to tango “with the French ambassador’s daughter in her dorm room at Miss Porter’s.” Mark then confesses he learned with “Nanette Himmelfarb, the Rabbi’s daughter, at the Scarsdale Jewish Community Center.” The additional dialogue further illuminates the pasts of the characters. The reference to Scarsdale – a Manhattan suburb that is known for its large Jewish population – indicates Mark’s Jewish background.

The film’s soundtrack eliminates the four “Voice mails,” and the three “Tune-Ups,” which play a critical role in the stage version. These segments illustrated the relationships between the characters and how they reached their current positions in life. While these plot elements will probably be substantially explored through extensive dialogue in the film, their arrangement in song was comical and helped break up the lengthier songs to keep them from blending together.

The most talked about component of the new soundtrack is the song “Love Heals,” which was not featured on the original recording.

The song was composed by Larson, but was unsuitable for the stage production. Some say that it was only included in the film’s soundtrack with the hope of receiving an Oscar nomination. While “Love Heals” fails to reveal any new developments of plot or character, its inspirational message is appropriate for the closing credits of the film, although I don’t see it having a more substantial role in the film.

The “RENT” soundtrack flows well as a whole, but those who are used to the original recording may have a hard time accepting it as music separate from the film that it’s intended to support. I recommend checking out the movie when it premiers at the end of this month and seeing how the soundtrack interacts with the new dialogue and cinematic elements.

Katz can be reached at jkatz@campustimes.org.

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