RENT the Musical

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RENT the Musical

There's a scene in the new musical "RENT" that may be the

quintessential romantic moment of the '90s. Roger, a

struggling rock musician, and Mimi, a junkie who's a

dancer at an S/M club, are having a lovers' quarrel when

their beepers go off and each takes out a bottle of pills. It's

the signal for an "AZT break," and suddenly they realize

that they're both HIV-positive. Clinch. Love duet. If you

don't think this is romantic, consider that Jonathan Larson's

sensational musical is inspired by Puccini's opera "La

Boheme," in which the lovers Mimi and Rodolfo are

tragically separated by her death from tuberculosis.

Different age, different plague. Larson has updated

Puccini's end-of-19th-century Left Bank bohemians to

end-of-20th-century struggling artists in New York's East

Village. His rousing, moving, scathingly funny show,

performed by a cast of youthful unknowns with explosive

talent and staggering energy, has brought a shocking jolt of

creative juice to Broadway. A far greater shock was the

sudden death of 35-year-old Larson from an aortic

aneurysm just before his show opened. His death just

before the breakthrough success is the stuff of both tragedy

and tabloids. Such is our culture. Now Larson's work,

along with "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk," the

tap-dance musical starring the marvelous young dancer

Savion Glover, is mounting a commando assault on

Broadway from the downtown redoubts of off-Broadway.

Both are now encamped amid the revivals ("The King and

I") and movie adaptations ("Big") that have made

Broadway such a creatively fallow field in recent seasons.

And both are oriented to an audience younger than

Broadway usually attracts. If both, or either, settle in for a

successful run, the door may open for new talent to

reinvigorate the once dominant American musical theater.

"RENT" so far has the sweet smell of success, marked no

only by it's $6 million advance sale (solid, but no guarantee)

but also by the swarm of celebrities who have clamored for

tickets: Michelle Pfeifer, Sylvester Stallone, Nicole Kidman

and Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Ralph Fiennes...name your

own biggie. Last week, on opening night, 21 TV crews,

many from overseas, swarmed the Nederlander Theatre to

shoot the 15 youthful cast members in euphoric shock

under salvos of cheers. Supermogul David Geffen of the

new DreamWorks team paid just under a million dollars to

record the original-cast album. Pop artitsts who've

expressed interest in recording songs from the 33-number

score include Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton and Boyz II

Men. A bidding scrimmage has started for the movie rights

among such Hollywood heavies as Warner Brothers,

Danny DeVito's Jersey Films, Fox 2000 and Columbia.

The asking price is $3 million, but bonuses for length of run,

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