being an us for once, instead of a them."
La Vie Boheme, Rent, Jonathan Larson
The hit rock
musical Rent portrays the bohemia of the 90's. This
modern bohemia, set in the seedy East Village of New York
City, echoes the bohemia of Paris in the 19th century:
- The Bohemia
of Rent contains poor youth and struggling artists
who defy convention and reject the mainstream culture. The
characters in the musical aim to live life on their own
terms, doing what they want from day to day and living for
- The story and
characters in the musical were inspired by Puccini's famous
opera La Boheme which
is based on Muger's Scenes
de La Vie de Boheme. The plot and the characters of
Rent parallel those in the opera and remain faithful
to Murger's main ideas of Bohemia.
for art: Rent centers around several diverse characters.
The two main characters, Mark and Roger, are the archetypal
bohemians. Roger is a young, struggling musician/songwriter
trying to write one glorious song before AIDS claims his life.
His roommate, Mark, is a film artist searching for opportunities
to practice his art. Having no steady jobs and no idea how
to obtain the next rent payment, they parallel the bohemians
of Paris: they abandon the pursuit of comfort and financial
security and focus fully on their art.
photo shows Mark with his camera (left) and Roger (right)
on his guitar lounging in their seedy apartment. Mark, having
nothing better to do, enjoys watching objects, people, and
events through his camera. The scene illustrates each man's
devotion to his art form, their idleness and poverty, all
characteristics of 19th century Bohemia in Paris.
the Mainstream Culture: The other principle characters,
like Mark and Roger, are young and live in the margins of
society. They include Angel Shunard, a transvestite and street
musician with AIDS, his lover Tom Collins, a computer genius
also plagued by AIDS, Mimi, a drug addict and club dancer,
Maureen, a performance artist, and her lover Joanne. These
characters are caught in a web of stormy relationships as
they try to eke out an existence.
None of these characters
have a stable lifestyle or security. Some must do odd jobs
for money. Angel, for example, is paid to play to a pesky
dog until it barks itself to death. The characters are unconventional
as well. They wear outlandish clothing, take drugs, and generally
do what they wish. They live life on their own terms, with
little concern for the future. To them there is "no
day but today." (Jonathan Larson)
Puccini's La Boheme: In
Puccini's opera there are four companions living together:
Shunard, a musician, Colline, a philosopher, Marcello, a painter,
and Rodolfo, a poet. The four companions in Rent are
similar in name and "profession." Angel Shunard
is a street musician, Collins is a computer genius, Mark is
a film artist and Roger is a songwriter. La Boheme
is mainly a love story between Rodolfo and a young grisette
named Mimi. In Rent, there is a love story between
Roger and Mimi, the club dancer. In La Boheme Mimi
is dying of rheumatism, in Rent Mimi is dying of AIDS.
The most important
parallel between the two shows is their faith to the age old
bohemian ideals originally brought to life by Murger. Although
Rent is romanticized and updated, it is basically the
same as the Bohemia of 19th century Paris.