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RECORD RACK

August 25, 1996|Laurie Winer

BROADWAY CAST RECORDING

"Rent"

DreamWorks

* * * *

It's rare enough that an important new Broadway cast album comes out, rarer still for one to be as moving and beautiful as this one.

Composer-lyricist Jonathan Larson died at age 35, just hours after "Rent's" off-Broadway dress rehearsal, as we learned just a few days later when the raves started pouring in. With this release, the great loss sustained by the musical theater is obvious to anyone with ears to hear.

First caveat: This is not rock music, although a debt to the Cars, Warren Zevon, the Ramones and techno-dance are strongly heard. This is show music, and anyone who does not listen in that spirit will miss the blessings of the recording.

Second caveat: This is not a perfect score. The group of struggling young artists who live and die in New York City's Alphabet City can be a shallow lot. In their pointless protest song near the start, "Rent," they act as if it is outrageous that anyone demand it. Their parents are patronizingly depicted, and any character with money is pretty much the antichrist.

That said, this is a gorgeous score. A love song between rock composer Roger (Adam Pascal, who overdoes the pathos) and Mimi (the superb, dusky-voiced Daphne Rubin-Vega) is a fitting tribute to the show's source, "La Boheme." The song "Light My Candle" has finely etched characters, a sustained metaphor and an irresistible melody, laid out in an arrangement that celebrates the song's fun as well as its sweetness.

As on stage, the musical is suffused with a sense of mortality that is tremendously moving whether or not you factor in the death of Larson. "Seasons of Love," which will be performed at the Democratic National Convention, asks the question, "How do you measure a year in the life?" This beautiful, gospel-flecked tune is simply inspirational. Stevie Wonder performs it with the cast in a bonus track, and it is fitting that this icon of American popular music marks Larson's contribution to the music of the decade.

My only regret is that the Republican convention didn't include the show's "Hair"-inspired ode to "La Vie Boheme," which features the lyrics: "To sodomy / It's between God and me."

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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