The late Jonathan Larson's stage musical Rent holds an odd significance for me as it marked the climax of my now-long-abandoned aspirations as a performer. Some six years ago, encouraged by my victory at a Rent singing contest hosted and judged by then-unknown local radio personality Ryan Seacrest, I tried my luck at one of the show's famous open cattle calls. Needless to say, nothing quite came out of it though I can safely say I didn't embarrass myself, unlike those frequently featured on a certain reality television series that put Seacrest on the national radar.
So it was with unusually eager anticipation I awaited the premiere of the first trailer for the film version of Rent, which started filming earlier this year for a November 11 release. Although the choice of director for a gritty, rather risqué, piece of work--Chris Columbus, he of the schmaltzy, kiddie feel-good--was enough to make a Renthead (as the fandom is called) let out a Macaulay-esque scream, early signs were unexpectedly promising. Six of the eight principals from the original 1996 Broadway cast were tapped to reprise their roles, with the most notable new addition being the sexy and talented Rosario Dawson. A behind-the-scenes piece that aired on Access Hollywood in May was even more encouraging, as Columbus's vision for the film appeared eerily close to what many fans had seen in their minds' eyes over the years.
The same can be said for the teaser trailer, in which Columbus displays the slavish devotion to source material that characterized his two Harry Potter films--and as such leaves me of a very mixed mind. As a fan of the show, the trailer works as a stunning reassurance. Setting a series of film clips to the signature gospel anthem "Seasons of Love," the teaser takes the Access piece a step further, serving as a Renthead guessing game of "identify which shot comes from which musical number"--an easier task than it may sound considering how everything--the casting, the costuming, the actions and expressions--so closely mirrors the stage show save for the addition of practical locations. (The stage show's spartan set design primarily consists of tables and chairs employed for a variety of uses.) The newly-recorded movie version of "Seasons," anchored by a soaring solo by the film's other major cast newcomer, Tracie Thoms, makes the familiar tune sound better than ever and fans eager to hear more fresh takes on the score.
But for the more practical purpose as a teaser, to entice any and all moviegoers to want to see or learn more about the picture, it's a failure. Without any prior knowledge of Rent, the teaser plays less like a trailer than a music video, as this slightly edited-down version of "Seasons" still runs for two minutes and thirty seconds, a running time more fitting for a standard trailer. Then certain touches that are lifted directly from the stage version, namely the cast singing the song while lined up on a bare stage, would strike casual audiences as bewildering if not rather lame out of context. So while the trailer makes me a little more optimistic about the final product--though still cautiously so; this is, after all, Columbus we're dealing with here--I cannot help but wonder if instead of offering an early enticement for uninitiated general audiences, this first trailer is alienating them right off the bat. I guess we'll see when the release date comes closer.