Rent, Take Two

By Charles Romaine

Originally published on Advocate.com February 17 2009 12:00 AM ET

On September 7, 2008 --
after 12 years and 5,124 performances --
Rent

closed on Broadway. For theater nuts who came of age in the
late '90s,
Rent

defined a generation. Creator Jonathan Larson's message was
deceptively simple:
no day but today ... don't compromise your artistic
principals for commercial success ... your community
can be your family ... homosexual relationships are just as
relevant and beautiful as heterosexual relationships.

These themes could have come across as
clich├ęs, but the brilliance of
Rent

is that Larson and his entire creative team tapped into the
resonant and limitless depth of emotion that fuels each of
these ideas. The fact that Jonathan Larson died the night
before the show opened off-Broadway, along with the
years of struggle and sacrifice he put in to get
Rent

to that point, only amplified his show's message.
Rent

was a near-instant success.

When Sony Pictures made
the film version of
Rent

in 2006, it used most of the original cast (with the notable
exceptions of Daphne Rubin-Vega's Mimi and Fredi Walker's
Joanne). Unfortunately, director Chris Columbus and the
talented cast were not able to fully capture the excitement and
energy of the stage production. But thankfully, the powers that
be went back to the drawing board and decided to film the
closing night of
Rent

.

Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway

is a theater lover's time capsule -- the closing night of a
historic Broadway show.

Besides the actual
performance, which finally preserves forever what makes
Rent

such a profound experience, the special features are the real
treat. The viewer gets to go backstage at the Nederlander
and watch interviews with the production team, the
cast, and even Jonathan Larson's parents.

Eden Espinosa, who
plays Maureen in this final performance, rose to theater fame
for her work as Elphaba in the Broadway and Los Angeles
productions of
Wicked.

She sat down with Advocate.com to talk about her experiences
filming the DVD, working with the L.A. cast of
Wicked

to support marriage equality, and what
Rent

means to her.

Advocate.com:I saw you just a few weeks ago with the other Los Angeles
Wicked

cast members at the "Defying Inequality" event at the
Factory, where you received a standing ovation singing "Over
the Rainbow." Can you tell me a little bit about the genesis
of the event?Eden Espinosa:

We had an idea for all of the
Wicked

companies in North America to pose a united front in support of
marriage equality. We didn't want to make this just a gay
issue; we wanted to focus on the human rights issue. So much of
the struggle ties in with Elphaba's. We had a great turnout. It
was a little tough emotionally because the show had closed here
in L.A. and the cast was literally packing up their lives and
leaving for San Francisco the next day.

Watching you and Megan Hilty (Glinda, who will open this
spring on Broadway as Doralee Rhodes in
9 to 5: The Musical

) close the benefit with "For Good" while Stephen
Schwartz played the piano was like crack for us theater freaks.
It really comes across that you both have terrific chemistry
together and affection for each other. What excites you the
most in an acting partner?

Well, we were planning on singing something else, and then at
the last minute we found out Stephen would be there. What
excites me is openness, being present, someone who is committed
to telling the story and who makes it as real as possible. It's
easy with Megan. It's like a partnership. She's always
committed to telling the story naturally, so it just makes it
easy

RENT CAST X390 (COLUMBIA) | ADVOCATE.COM

Without naming any names, have you ever had any bad
experiences?

No ... thankfully, no bad experiences. I will tell you being
thrown into an established cast is hard. When there are already
relationships formed, people used to working with someone else
... that can be challenging.

I've read that your father is a minister and Christian
composer. Has there been any conflict with your family or in
reconciling your Christian background with the fact that you
work with and have so many gay friends in your life?

No, no ... my father is a teacher. He was the worship leader at
our church when I was growing up. There has never been an issue
from my family. They love all of my friends and consider them
part of their own family. I have my own faith, but I am removed
from the church.

Like you, I grew up in Southern California. Growing up, most
of my musical theater references came from the MGM movies. It
wasn't until
Rent

opened down at the La Jolla Playhouse that I really had that
theatrical experience. I became a West Coast "Rent
Head" at 16. Is there one show that did that for you?

My grandmother used to take me to dinner theaters, but yeah, I
watched a lot of the movie musicals and was obsessed with them.
It wasn't until high school that I realized I wanted to do this
as a profession. When I was a senior in high school I was doing
a show at Disneyland. One day my friend played the
Rent

soundtrack for me, and that was it for me. It's what I wanted
to do. I mean, I can do legit and stuff ... but I really wanted
to just rock out!

You did
Flora, the Red Menace

at Reprise last year. That score is so beautiful. Can
you tell me a little bit about that experience?

I had finished
Wicked

and my agents were contacted about my doing the show. I went on
vacation, met with the director when I got back, and was
offered the part. I honestly had never heard of the show before
agreeing to do it, so I did my research and realized it was
written by Kander and Ebb and it was Liza's first Broadway
show. I was beginning to feel a lot of pressure from the whole
"Liza" thing, so I made it a point not to listen to the
soundtrack while learning it. The whole experience at Reprise
is intense. It's literally 10 days of rehearsals, two days of
tech, and that's it.

That's insane! How did
Rent

come into your life? Did you know that you would be part of the
closing cast going into the production?

Right before
Flora

I was asked to be in the closing cast of
Rent.

They actually wanted me to go into the show earlier, but at
that point I was committed to
Flora

and wanted to honor that. I had wanted to do
Rent

for 12 years. I auditioned every time it came to L.A. I
auditioned for the movie. I had finally gotten to the point
where I was resigned to never doing it.

Rent DVD cover xlarge (COLUMBIA) | ADVOCATE.COM

The movie version just didn't work. It should have been done
the way you got to do it -- filmed live.

Yes, I agree it should have been filmed live.

How different was it to perform with cameras? Did it
interfere at all with the "live" aspect of your
performance? Did you have to make any spontaneous
adjustments?

I don't remember any intrusions at all. We ran through the big
numbers the day before and filmed some close-ups on numbers
like "Christmas Bells." I was very determined to show
that we were actors and not let the cameras affect the
performance. You know, if you go out there and do what you do
every night, you'll be fine.

When you're not working, where do you spend most of your
time? New York or L.A.?

I am planning to be as bicoastal as possible, but L.A. is
home.

Besides theater, what else would you love to accomplish in
your career or just personally?

I want to do an album. But I want to do an album that is me and
what I want to say, not just a collection of theater songs. You
know, singing is my first love, but I'd also love to just act
... do a play and stretch those muscles.