Home » HBO Documentary Films: REVOLUTION RENT | Review

HBO Documentary Films: REVOLUTION RENT | Review

by Jef Dinsmore
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Docs_RevolutionRent-Pic01Overview: This film directed by Andy Señor Jr. and Victor Patrick Alvarez, follows Señor Jr. to Cuba, where he is tasked with directing a stage production of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, “Rent,” the country’s first Broadway musical produced by an American company in more than 50 years. Returning to his exiled parents’ homeland, Señor Jr. embarks on a personal journey, exploring his Cuban heritage and his family’s complex relationship with the country they love. It follows Señor Jr. as he develops the groundbreaking production, from auditions through the closing night, highlighting the many setbacks and accomplishments that he and his cast and crew encounter along the way. Debut Date: June 16, 2021. Now on Max.  

Expectations: First let me say, I believe in the power of good theater offering a strong message. “Rent” by Jonathan Larson fits that bill. I wasn’t surprised by the notion that Cuba had to wait this long to see an American troupe bringing in such art. Again, not surprised, but I did read that sentence over more than once to get its full impact. Poor Cuba starving for so much.    

Gut Reaction: This is a well-constructed film. We get several little stories all congealing around the main premise of putting on the production. Most of the piece focuses on the auditions/rehearsals for “Rent”, but it also focuses on Señor Jr and his mother’s return to Cuba after a difficult exit from the country and shows a bit of the life of the actors involved in the production. 

The locale is the capital city of Havanna. But even here the power goes out often and tap water is not always flowing and many of the buildings are crumbly. In this environment, NYC professionals are hoping to stage a professional run of the Larson show. In that endeavor lies the problem and the major dramatic element of the film. They start with the difficulty of the auditions. It illustrates my main disgruntlement with the endeavor (but not the film). The Americans involved walk in expecting a top-notch quality production; at least they didn’t have the cast learn English but had it translated. But the Cubans they audition are not versed and familiar with the ‘Broadway-style’ of singing, or stage presence. To expect these people to be like NYC superstar wannabes is foolish of the production team. That fact is intensified after the cast choices had been made. Each performer was struggling with their roles. Their strength might be their singing voices, they couldn’t necessarily act or dance or, more importantly, work as a cohesive troupe towards a common goal. One example was of a lady who could not get past the fact that she was playing a lesbian and needed to allow a bit of affection from another who was more willing to take on a lesbian role. Another example is that some rehearsals that called for the 22-member ensemble had less than half of the cast attend them. 

The commitment wasn’t serious enough and the production team was in a complete state of agita. It made for interesting drama but surprised me that the team was surprised by these complications. What, they thought they could waltz right in ‘put on a high-caliber show’ in a culture not familiar with that ethic? Those challenges are what made this film an interesting work to watch. Quite honestly, they could have walked in wanting to stage a children’s theatre production of  “Charlotte’s Web” and faced the same problems and had the same results because the real lesson here seemed to be the importance of having a bonding ensemble working together towards a rewarding moment. “Rent”, however, is all about an ensemble being there for each other during a stressful period of their individual lives, so it all ties in and makes sense.    

In Conclusion: Of course, there is a happy ending to the struggle this troupe had in putting on this historic production in Cuba. The show was performed to an appreciative audience; many of the cast went on to do great things and “Rent” lives on as an impactful theatrical tale. Though I didn’t always agree with all the methodology the production team used, I did appreciate the journey, the serious “let’s knuckle down and make this work’ moments, and the fact that this Cuban troupe pulled it off. It is a great story of the power theatre can have, not just the plot itself but the process too. It is only rewarding if you put the collective dose of blood, sweat and tears into it and this Cuban troupe did just that, and REVOLUTION RENT captures just that. 

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