With an original Broadway run of 5,123 performances, "Rent" established itself as one of the most memorable musicals of all time in the 1990s and 2000s. It won four Tony Awards—including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score—and six Drama Desk Awards as well. Not many people know that it also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, though. Think about for a moment the next time you hear a tune from the show.
The 20th anniversary tour of Rent continues with three shows coming up in Anaheim, Calif. in January at the City National Grove of Anaheim. The rock musical, itself an homage to Puccini's La Bohéme, will play on Saturday, January 20, at 8:00 pm and then twice on Sunday, January 21, at both 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Tickets are available here on AXS.com by clicking on those showtimes.
For now, though, here are our choices for the ten best songs from the show, which will last forever in our hearts and minds, long after the show stops touring and winning over new fans around the world. Don't be afraid to sing along as you read along.
10. "One Song Glory"
It's an old joke now, but all it takes is one hit to make a career for a rock 'n' roll band. Then you can tour until you die on the basis of that one hit, and the fans will flock to you. That's the essence of this song, sung by the Roger character, as he ponders his future and his goals early on in Rent. This recording above is from the 2008 Broadway cast, as the show was winding its original run down in New York City, with Will Chase in the role of Roger.
This song is a little outdated, simply because of the reality of eviction notices today. However, it captures the moment for the cast of characters in the show and their lifestyle in New York City. Coming early in Act I, the audience tunes into the reality for the struggling artists in the show. This recording is from the film version, which featured many of the same actors as the original Broadway show.
8. "Take Me or Leave Me"
Long before she was Elphaba in Wicked, Idina Menzel wowed Broadway audiences as Maureen in Rent. The comical, albeit earnest, plea to Joanne is captured perfectly by Menzel in all her wonderfulness. This recording is from the film version, still featuring Menzel in the role of Maureen. Tracie Thoms portrayed Joanne in this film version and at the end of the stage run on Broadway as well, making some magical sparks with Menzel in this duet.
7. "I Should Tell You"
One of the best connections between characters in the show is the Roger-Mimi relationship. Toward the end of Act I, the duo shares a tender moment together in song, and the audience can't help but feel the warmth inside themselves as a result. This recording is also from the 2008 Broadway cast, with Renée Elise Goldsberry in the role of Mimi.
6. "La Vie Bohéme A"
Along with the title song, this tune also really captures the essence of the "movement" the characters are part of in 1990s New York City. It's fun and catchy, and you really can't forget it, long after it's over. This film version of the song is a bonus, because of the extra capability of production design not available in a stage production.
5. "Without You"
One of the big tear-jerker songs in the show, this song again features the Roger-Mimi duo in Act II when life has changed dramatically for every character (no spoilers). The film version accentuates this in a way the lyrics alone cannot, but the primary recording here is a reunion performance from the originators of the respective roles (Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega). That's Rosario Dawson in the film version, by the way.
4. "Light My Candle"
The witty lyrics reveal the brilliant rapport between Roger and Mimi in this Act I scene where the two meet for the first time, formally. The clip above is from the film, but here is another version with Pascal and Rubin-Vega from the same reunion performance mentioned above.
3. "Tango: Maureen"
Admission: The writer once woke up his wife in the middle of the night singing this song, both roles in key, in his sleep. That means it is a personal favorite, but it's the best duet of the show—by far. It's funny, clever and catchy, and the rapport between Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Joanne (Thoms) in this film version is just incredible. Remember, both characters have deep feelings for Maureen, so it just adds to the tension and splendor of the moment in the show.
2. "Today 4 U"
There is a reason that Wilson Jermaine Heredia won the Tony and the Drama Desk Awards for Best Actor after his performance as Angel in Rent. This scene alone could have won him the awards, in truth. It's so much fun and such a great way to introduce a new character to the story in the middle of Act I. This film version is great, because of the expansive set design not available on a stage.
1. "Seasons of Love"
Easily the most recognizable song from the show, and for good reason, this tune just gives the listener goosebumps all over every time it plays. The lyrics, when broken down and analyzed and processed, really resonate with anyone possessing heart and soul. This version is from the film, which places the song at the beginning instead of its usual spot at the beginning of Act II. Enjoy, again and again. Measure your life in love, folks. It's all we need.