Thursday, 4 October 2007

THOUGHTS: RENT Remixed (First Preview)

I know that I should be posting a proper review of this, given the nature of the site, but I can't do it. Besides the fact that it's considered bad form to review a preview (and a first preview at that), I left the Duke of York's feeling conflicted and almost speechless by what I saw. Some of the new material works well, some would have worked well, and some just failed miserably. I started this list of change and quick opinions as a message board post, but thought I'd expand on and continue it here rather than posting a full review. I have another ticket for the 18th, and will post a proper review then as two weeks is enough time to settle in.

Without further ado, things that stood out, with some spoilers:
-Angel is no longer a drag queen, but rather a new member of Right Said Fred.
-Some of the drag queen text has been removed, but a lot of the he/she stuff is still there and doesn't work in the new context.
-The voice mails are spoken, not sung, and all prerecorded. One is by Kylie.
-The answering machine no longer says “Speeeeeaaaaak.”
-A few numbers retain their original orchestrations, or something close.
-Sometimes, “remixed” just means taking out the guitar.
-The original RENT band has five members. The RENT Remixed band has four members and a computer running virtual orchestra software.
-Today 4 U? All click track.
-Another Day is well orchestrated, but the staging is poor.
-Out Tonight is well staged, but the orchestrations are poor, and come straight from the infamous Jazz edition album of the show. I miss the slam on the electric guitar after Life Support.
-Act One ends with Christmas Bells. Act Two has Over The Moon/La Vie Boheme/I Should Tell You.
-Seasons of Love is used for an encore, though a verse comes through here and there throughout the score, sometimes less than five minutes from the prior use.
-Lots of small dialogue changes, a few voice mails and plot bits have been restructured, but references haven't been edited.
-Due to the edits, it's hard to tell where the cast screwed up lines vs. edits.
-Because they focused the adverts on a celebrity as Maureen, Over The Moon is 10 minutes long including a dance segment.
-Part of the La Vie Boheme hand dance made it in.
-What You Own made me want to cry, and not because I was moved. Rather, it's been redone as a slow, angsty emo solo for Mark.
-Contact. I'd like to hear the lyrics, please. Lots of coloured strobes and fetish costumes and house shaking bass.
-RENT. Needs energy, has none.
-Mark likes taking his shirt off, and is directed to sing the beginning of LVB in a totally OTT manner.
-Vocal arrangements? Generally excellent. Not just saying that because I met the guy.
-Without You's orchestration was heavily influenced by the Swedish cast recording.
-Costumes. Not going there.
-The lyrics and orchestrations fight with each other. A lot.
-Goodbye Love's orchestration fails to live up to the emotion of the song.
-Take Me or Leave Me sounds good, but works as a Gwen Stefani or Kylie video, not as a song in a cohesive piece of theatre.
-The set is three floor to ceiling white flats painted like brick with a white raked platform and a catwalk with exits on stage L/R that is bisected by a stairway. The walls are lit from below by rows of footlight sconces. It's simple and effective.
-Mimi has dancers with giant feathery fans in Without You. It makes no sense.
-Flying beds and Christmas trees. Just saying.
-Adding an extra drum machine line does not count as a proper re-orchestration. Just saying.
-Mark, Mimi, Angel, and a couple of the ensemble had UK accents. Everyone else went American.
-The big thing about mentioning new AIDS treatments? Replace “AZT” with “NDT”. Impressive, huh?
-"Remixed" means "soulless and no emotion."
-The show got a standing ovation from a large percentage of the crowd, but it was by no means the whole house.

As I said above, proper review in two weeks when the shock of seeing a different staging has worn off and I can look more clearly at the production.


The Luu said...

I'm a massive fan of rent. I'm disappointed that I wasn't older and doing as well as I am now otherwise I would have flown out to see the original Broadway cast in a heartbeat.

Being an animator and aspiring film maker, I was completely satisfied with the movie. But I do wish they had gone all out for the fans rather than appease a wider audience. But that was never going to happen.

When I first heard about this new production, I was quite excited as it would have been another chance for me to see the show on stage. However as time went by, I started to become more dubious about the direction it was being taken in.

Thank you for your thoroughly descriptive post, you have confirmed all of my fears. The power of RENT is the characterisation, music and lyrics. It sounds like they've changed it far too much for my liking. I have a feeling that this production will just make me angry, so I won't be going to see it.

I just don't understand why you're going back for a more punishment!

Rogue Zentradi said...

I just don't understand why you're going back for a more punishment!

Well, I had planned to wait on going a second time until after first preview, but with the cancellation, it became easier to take someone's extra ticket for this past Wednesday and rebook mine for later (and cheaper than trying to buy twice with the obnoxiously inconsistent refunds given by the Duke of York staff). I'm also figuring that there will be changes during the preview period, and from posts on Whatsonstage where people have talked to the cast, it appears that they are in fact scrambling to rework the most problematic areas.

Sadly, I suspect that I will end up needing a third visit - one more at the end of previews, to confirm final changes, or to go instead to the WoS event night where there's Q&A with the director and I can go all Paxman on him.

Anonymous said...

Well what can I say that hasnt already been said - I was unlucky enough to see this show on openeing night - or should I say the rescheduled opening night (if only they had cancelled the show I saw). I'm tryiong to prioritise the things I hated but there are so many: 1. A cast that looked fresh out of youth theatre - this seemed to be emulated by comments in the program, cast members thanking there parents for support and references to there myspace page - this should have been an early indication for me to run as fast as I could to see if I could get tickets for another show. 2. I presumed the show was set in New York, but you wouldnt know this from the accents of some characters, The Mark character sounded like a member of the royal family, thankfully we were only subjected to a few awful lines of dialogue from mimi, the rest was just awful singing. 3. The death of angel - At this point I was just glad we were a cast member down and hoping that remix ment the others would all soon follow him up those stairs with angel wings on (what on earth was the director thinking) I've never seen an audience more desperate to stifle laughter through what should be an emotional scene. After seeing this pile of rubbish inside the theatre all I longed for was a sign outside the theatre TO LET

John Webb

Anonymous said...

(i have not seen the Rent:Remixed YET..!)

I have told friends to see RENT if it comes back to the UK, i have been saying this for a couple of years as i love everything about it. Seen it 3 twice in the UK (both runs - Caprice and the original production).
I was in New York in May and took my Girlfriend to see the Broadway original RENT and we sat near the front - EXCELLENT..!! Both loved it..!!

When i heard Rent was coming back i thought YEAH !!.
Told friends who have arranged a night to see it - i jumped at the chance to see it again (even though i have the DVD now as well).
We go to see this in a weeks time, and now i am worried..!!

When i heard there was a new updated/remixed version i thought "interesting!"

but reading this review and a list of the changes - how could they change characters/voices/songs/the story..?

My god this souds very bad !!!

I will still go with an open mind, but i fear the worse..!!

Simon H

Holleylumiere said...

*sob* I love RENT. It's my favorite piece of Theatre EVER. When I first heard about the Remix I was outraged. You can't change that. It's just wrong. Then I decided to reserve judgment to wait until I see it when I go to London of 2008 or at least Wait until I hear a recording.

So I log onto my Site and see a member has posted Youtube "videos" of the songs. I listen to Out Tonight ('cause It's my Favorite) and I want to throw myself down stairs. NO! NO NO NO NO! Mimi is not a goddamned Jazz singer. Shes a stripper. Strippers DO NOT sing songs like that. Upon listening to other songs I have no idea how to feel. Some of them are brilliant sounding (One song Glory and err... ok... so that's the only one I loved so far, but It's probably 'cause the actor is so talented) others barely changed but in a few awkward spots (WTF is with Light My Candle?) and others are blasphemy (Out tonight).

Upon reading this list of things changed my opinion of Anti-RENT has fallen even more. WTF were they thinking?

Helen said...

As hard core Rent fans, Rent Remixed left a lot to be desired. But then, maybe we missed something- sitting underneath the Mezzanine we could only see the feet of characters on the upper levels of the set.

All in all, this was an overblown, butchery of Larson's salute to America's forgotten youth.

Rent shoud be out-of-control emotional, of course. The whole notion of a musical about AIDS is going to have some sad bits. But there's a line between heart-felt and heavy-handed. This production hasn't just crossed the line, they've hung themselves with it.

Case in point: if were confused by what it meant for Angel to ascend towards a white light after lying in a hospital bed "from heaven," there was a handy flat line beep across the stage's LCD tickertape screen, to really hammer it home. We were also unsettled by the insunation created by the "B & D, metaphorical AIDS dancers" attacking Angel in his final moments, i.e: that all alternative sexual practises are dripping with the virus.

The one time the screen may have been effective was during La Vie Boheme. But rather than seeing all those sensational lyrics (which would have helped us enjoy their subtly "to no absolutes, to Absolut") we got "Anarchy, Anarchy, Anarchy" flashing out of time to the music.

But we would have forgiven the heaviest of hands if the performances had been up to scratch. The only thing we believed about Siobhan Donaghy's performance was that she was weak, extremely hungry and potentially near death. Born to be bad? No, she was born to do the Robot and call it a strip-tease. All we wanted, was ONE moment where she would open her mouth and wibble a note that carried some emotion. Even in "Goodbye Love" she managed to come off as blase.

Meanwhile remembering that we've seen Taye Diggs play Benny, it was hard to swallow a weedy, talentless Ludacris look-a-like who was a little off key.

Other bits we hate include:

- Mark hamming up one of the only straight roles in the cast. We were embarassed for him throughout "La Vie Boheme"'s intro.
- 'Over the Moon?" Hardly. Denise's pitiful panto broke the fourth wall and had us cringing in our seats.
- The emo ballad mockery of "Living in America".
- The 'subtle' references to explain why half the cast couldn't nail an American accent
- Overuse of the word 'Fuck' in an attempt to make the show more edgy.
- Mark's digital handy-cam.
- Little 'updates' to the script which ruined the rhythm and rhyme. The original referred to "prozac." Xanax doesn't rhyme with "Or you'll pack"
- Angel felt like he was more suited to kicking someone's head in at a football match than to be the symbol for kindness and truth. His ability to put his leg behind his neck did little to make up for it.
- With two stong vocalists "Take me or Leave Me" could have been sensational. Instead Denise van Outen and her lesbian love struggled to keep up with the bubble gum synth house beats. Glo-Sticks anyone?

Apart from an fairly strong Joanne, the only diamond in this very rough production was Luke Evans as Roger. His performance was better than any we have seen before - and we've seen a few. He resurrected the previously dreary "Without You" and even managed to breath truth into the cheese of "you were the song all along". He made love to every note and saved the duets with Donaghy.

The ensemble was also fanastic. "Christmas Bells" was an excellent ending to the first act and "Will I lose my dignity" actually brought tears (and for once not of laughter).

Good bits aside, we didn't buy Baker's rehash of our favourite 90s musical. We wouldn't even rent it.

Anonymous said...

Back in France after a weekend in London... Saw Rent Remixed. I've seen Rent twice on Broadway and I also saw the movie.

Unlike some other fans, I was very open to the idea of updating and changing the show. The new show is so-so. Roger was awesome! They did a good job of changing some of the painful bits in the old show-- for example the old lipstick fem latino drag version of Angel was truly horrible. The new masculine muscle yet still drag Angel is a refreshing surprise that works well. I wish they had used the opportunity to cut the horrible Over the Moon monologue. This was always the weakest part of the show. Instead, they lengthened this bit and added a boring audience participation piece. The whole second Act really dragged on.
Some of the directing choices were poor. They made the show more vulgar (swearing and lots of sexual gestures) for no good reason. This new vulgar sexuality is just out of place. Haven't they heard of "less is more"? A subtle lip licking by Maureen in the original was more effective than a painful prolonged 20 second simulated fellatio tongue dance, but no one bothered to tell the director.

The LED scroll board across the top of the set is too gimicky. It might help explain some plot points and lyrics, but no one needs to understand all the songs to appreciate the show. (It took me years to understand what Steuben Glass and the other Christmas Bells references meant). I agree with the other post that the new jazzy Cat Scratch stripper arrangement doesn't work.

The New York location was wholly unconvincing. I am completely willing to overlook British accents, but they deleted most of the East Village and alphabet city references in the dialogue (the streets in the NY's East Village that are named Avenue A, B, etc.) and so through most of the show I thought that the show was supposed to be set in London. Then suddenly they make some NY references. I was confused.

Lola Cherry Cola said...

Oh dear lord. I adored the last show of Rent that was in London (2003 if I remember right) but now I am very glad I haven't gone to see this one. How can they not have Angel as a drag queen?! Far too many changes for my liking. In my opinion why fix something that isn't broken in the first place? They'd have been better doing the show as it was intended to be performed, time era and all.

Lets hope next time Rent comes to the West End it'll be in it's original unremixed form.

Martin said...

Went to see it last night. really is as toe curlingly bad as everyone is saying. Completely confused production. Oliver Thornton totally miscast as Mark, every time he spoke I just wanted to jump on stage and punch him! Denise Van Outen was pretty good but you got the impression that she was relishing the chance to say f**k to the audience and cast members just a little too much. The sugababe was understudied as was the Joanna character.

The only saving grace was Luke Evans who gave a fantastic performance as a vunerable Roger (probably the best I've seen).

Anyway the show has well and truly flopped and closes in February, 2 months early. I bet Jonathan Larson is turning in his grave.

Es said...

I'm not an original RENThead: that is, I never saw the OBC live. I did see Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal twice (once on their last night) when they came back, and I saw Gwen Stewart three times (her last night also). But I was less than 5 years old in 1996, and so I missed an incredible experience. I also live in Massachusetts, which makes it hard to see the show. However, I have managed to see it six times: 5 on Broadway and once on tour. I know more than everythning there is to know about the show and the OBC. I base my life around this show, because it's been the one reliable and wonderful thing that's happened to me in years.


I'm sort of in shock. Thank god I've haven't seen it; but reading about it is still physically painful. These aren't updates, they're butcherings. Angel out of drag, replacing "prozac" and "AZT" with "xanax" and "NDT", f*cking around with Over The's ridiculous.

I've heard some of the songs, and they literally made me cry with fury and enraged disbelief (I really, really wish I were exagerrating). Out Tonight is disgusting, as is Today 4 U and What You Own. La Vie Boheme? COME ON. Fail.

What I can't understand is how people can think this needs to be done. Yes, RENT was written for the time period of AIDS, East Village grunge, and drugs. It was the banner for that generation, the one that I started my life in. Now that time period has passed...but RENT hasn't. It might be a little bit dated, but that is such a huge part of it that "remixing" it is such an obviously idiotic idea that...I don't know. All I can say is I can't bear to watch as RENT is torn to pieces like this. I love it too much to see it like that.

Afternote: the actors? Bad bad BAD choices. Angel looks like a neo-Nazi, Mimi and Joanne are Barbies, and Mark...uuuugh. Seeing three tiny blonds screeching out the solo in Seasons of Love when I've heard Gwen blast the roof off with her indescribably amazing voice is nauseating. I have nothing against blondes or anything like that, and god knows as a Jewish lesbian I definitely have something againt neo-Nazis. But come on, people: if you're going to turn a musical upside-down and hang it, why not go the whole hog and cast Britney Spears as Mimi and Keanu Reeves as Roger? Then the next level of hell--labeled RENT Remixed--would be complete.

Martin said...

Es, I wouldn't have a heart attack about it :-)

Regardless of what we Rent fans think, the "remixed experiment" has been a critical and commercial failure. Very unlikely that it will be resurrected anytime soon.

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