Monday, August 12, 2013

Six Songs Is All You Need, Part 2

I took a week off last week for improv camp (which I'm sure I'll get around to talking about at some point) but the new weekly update of Musical Mondays continues again today, with another installment of Six Songs Is All You Need

And today's musical is:

The La Boheme-inspired sung-through 90s musical gathered a legend all its own when its young creator, both writer and composer, Jonathan Larson, died unexpectedly of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm. Though not the deadly disease that is the focus of the rock opera, it did call up themes of the fragility and fleetingness of life. I would argue that there really has never been another show quite like Rent since its debut in 1996, though its influence is fairly obvious. I enjoy the harder edged sound to Broadway in general, with more "purist" styles becoming a refreshing, occasional throwback.

The track listing on the original recording is something like 40+. There is a highlights album that exists, and of course the movie soundtrack keeps most of the vital songs. It's gonna be a challenge, but here are the 

Six Songs You Need from Rent

1.) Track #7, Disc #1: "One Song Glory"
First and foremost, we skip straight ahead to the first solo of the show, and "One Song" is a fantastic introduction to Larson's style, while also being one of his most subtle introspective numbers. It's also one of the more accessible (although none of his less accessible ones are in Rent, they're all in tick, tick, Boom!)
I enjoy the solo pieces of Rent (as you'll soon see) because I think they provide the most insight into the characters (as they should) and there's so few of them. We get all manner of combinations singing together, save for a real number between Benny and Mimi, which I would've enjoyed.
ANYway, it's a strong number and gives you enough insight into Roger as a character that it can stand alone.
This is Adam Pascal singing it in '09, I believe, during the touring show. I particularly love his modulation of the fourth "Glory" note. 
(I also didn't like having to type the phrase 'glory note.')

2.) Track #12, Disc #1: "Tango: Maureen"
There's something odd about the Broadway filmed version for me. While it's pretty cool to see a pro recording of its final performance, and the cast is more than game, there's something weird, like the show tempos are weird or something. Or there's this distance between it and the audience, I don't know what it is. But regardless, I do love this version, because I love Tracie Thoms who was amazing and probably the most worthwhile thing of the movie version, while Skylar Astin is a great Mark. He's not neurotic and awkward like Anthony Rapp's, there's a more modern take to him.
Anyway, I like the idea of a musical number dedicated to a character that we haven't seen yet. It's really cool. Plus, the number's just fun.

3.) Track #23, #24, & #25: "La Vie Boheme", "I Should Tell You", "La Vie Boheme B"
I know this is a bit of a cheat, but I have always really considered these to be a single number, but in three movements.
"La Vie Boheme", almost more than "Rent" and "Seasons of Love", represent the show's spirit. "Seasons" is its heart, absolutely. But I think there's something so fun about "La Vie Boheme" and how it represents its youth, rebellion, counter-culture, and artistic expression.
The cast is really game, like I said, in the Filmed Live on Broadway version, so I used that for the first movement.
"I Should Tell You" for me, is the best of the Mimi/Roger numbers, of which there are many. "Out Tonight/Another Day" (which I also treat as a single song) works better onstage than it does as a piece of audio.
With "Tell You" we get character development as well as a breather between the Boheme pieces. I enjoy the vulnerability of both of these stoic characters: Roger hiding behind his grief, Mimi hiding behind the bravado of sexual liberation. I used the Hollywood Bowl version, which I'm a huge fan of, and it's Aaron Tveit and Vanessa Hudgens, who play the parts extremely well, and have some really good chemistry.
Finally, I took the B Boheme from the movie. It's fine, a hair faster than the first part, a summation of its themes. I took the movie version for the hilarious slow-motion pan across the stars of the movie. Everyone's paired up except for Mark, and they look ridiculous in slow-motion, him especially.

4.) Track #5, Disc #2: "Take Me Or Leave Me"
The Bowl performance, if you ever get a chance to take it in, is really worthwhile, as is the Les Miz from the Bowl.
Between "Take Me" and "What You Own", which I think are the two best duets of the show, I had to choose "Take Me" because there's precious few female/female duets in musical theatre. Off the top, I can think of "I Know Him So Well" from Chess and "For Good" from Wicked.
But this one has a wonderfully complex and deep relationship at its core, and the two ladies singing it, whether it's Idina Menzel and Tracie Thoms, or Idina and Fredi Walker, or Thoms and Eden Espinosa, or this one, Thoms and inexplicably good Nicole Scherzinger, the number is infectious.
I argue the opening piano is more iconic and recognizable in a musical theatre sing-along situation than even "Seasons of Love."

5.) Track #10, Disc #2: "I'll Cover You (Reprise)"
Good Lord, Jesse L. Martin. You first captured criminals on Law & Order, and then you captured our hearts.
Martin has pretty much my favorite voice of the male cast of Rent and with good reasons. It's expressive, controlled, rangy, and soulful. And that's all showcased here in this number.
The number just works. In context of the show, it's even more effective because it is the reprise of a more upbeat number, the love duet of Angel and Collins. The reprise takes place at the funeral of Angel, sung solo by Collins. But you don't need to know the backstory to hear the hurt, the loss, and the grief in Martin's voice. Every note is a labor of love. Every beat is a good-bye. I love the movie version, because Martin just goes balls to the wall, and the arrangement is just killer.

6.) Track #11, Disc #2: "Halloween"
Finally, somewhat of an offbeat choice, my final pick, is a brief little number, sung by Mark. Again, I enjoy its insight into characters, particularly Mark, who up to this point, has also hidden behind his own wall, a camera, under the pretense of journalistic objectivity.
Even though he belittles it in-song, I love the line:
"Why are entire years strewn
On the cutting room floor of memory,
While single frames from one magic night
Forever flicker in close-up on the 3-D IMAX of my mind?"
It's not pathetic at all, it's an intriguing summary of the idea that our lives are made up of moments that mean everything. 
It's an easily skipped-over number, but I like the pull-back from the action, a lot has happened up to this point, and the particularly emotional loss of Angel, the show's emotional center, is impactful, and it makes Mark drop his facade, which I love.
I chose the movie version, which is actually a deleted scene, because it cuts out the phone call to Alexi Darling that leads into the song itself.

Missed the Mark:
Rent / Seasons of Love - So to begin, "Rent" for me doesn't serve well as an opening number. It's raucous, it's loud, there's a lot going on, and it doesn't service the characters in my opinion. I usually skip it on my listenings because it's chaotic and jarring. The movie got it right, starting with "Seasons." But on that note, I don't think "Seasons" is representative of Rent's sound as a whole. It's a gospel number, it features the cast singing the same thing, as opposed to parts, and it's not about themselves, it's about bigger themes. I love the song, but a) I feel like everyone's heard it and b) again, I don't think it's representative of the show.
Out Tonight / Light My Candle / Without You - As I mentioned earlier, I find a lot of the Roger/Mimi storyline to be somewhat insufferable. I like "Out Tonight/Another Day" but with the visual element. "Light My Candle" is fine and funny, but I think gets too cute and cavalier ("Like your dead girlfriend?") And "Without You" is just repetitive for me. The movie version saves it though, by having Roger and Mimi sing it but the montage is of Collins and Angel, effectively replacing the number "Contact." 
Will I - I love the song, but it's just a choral round. I love the staging ideas for it. Also, in the movie, Aaron Lohr sings the opening verse. Yes, Aaron Lohr, the second Bash Brother in the Mighty Ducks. And yes, Aaron Lohr, voice of Max in A Goofy Movie.
Santa Fe - It's the closest we get to an I Want song in the show, but it never gets resolved. Collins never does move to Santa Fe, though Roger does later on, but it turns out this subplot fizzles for the most part. I like the number but I think each of the guys has a better number in the show.
I'll Cover You - The original version is a great number, just not my favorite. I much prefer the reprise which I do think works without knowing the original.
Over the Moon - I'm not a fan of this song. Never have been. It's hit or miss with who does the number. I've seen both bad and good girls as Maureen playing it. This is the first time we see her, this is her solo. And for the most part, it's just nuts. I understand that's supposed to be the point, I definitely don't think it works just listening to it, so I left it off the list.
What You Own - I had to choose between this and "Take Me" and the girls' number just edges it out. I think "Goodbye Love" has a better representation of Mark and Roger's relationship. In this number on the other hand, they just happen to be singing at the same time. And the point of a duet for me is to represent the relationship. Mark and Roger are singing together, but not about each other.