Well, Rent was Live… For 15 Minutes

Author: Evan Tribelhorn

Photo courtesy of Ray Mickshaw/Fox

An actor’s broken foot was just the start of the issues that plagued Sunday’s production of Rent: Live on Fox. One of the show’s lead actors, Brennin Hunt, broke his foot during the final dress rehearsal on Saturday. The show’s production team may have taken the line “There’s only us,” a little too seriously when they inexplicably decided not to hire understudies. This left fox scrambling to pick up the pieces and make a quick decision to deliver a patchwork quilt of a show. What was aired on television was mostly a prerecorded dress rehearsal with the last fifteen minutes were reworked so that Hunt could participate in the live finale. In the studio itself, the cast performed essentially a live table read with a full band for the audience that was there.

The worst part about the decision to air the dress rehearsal instead of the actual live performance is that it exposed some pretty big cracks in the production itself. The most noticeable issue to me, beyond the lack of understudies, was the sound mixing. Given that most of the show was pre-recorded, it doesn’t make sense that the actors could barely be heard over the band and/or the screaming crowd. The cast was genuinely good, and I wanted to hear what their talent could offer to these beloved characters. One of the standout performances of the night was pop singer Tinashe as Mimi Marquez, who brought spot-on vocals to “Light My Candle” and “Out Tonight.” Vanessa Hudgens also had spectacular energy as Maureen, and Brandon Victor Dixon’s performance of “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” as Tom Collins was absolutely transcendent.

Photo of Brandon Victor Dixon's performance of "I'll Cover You" as Tom Collins. He stands in the middle of a crowd of people, all staring adoringly at him
Courtesy of Kevin Estrada/Fox

I truly appreciate the efforts of major studios trying to make live theater more accessible, and in theory Rent is the perfect show to perform, especially considering the current political situation of the country. However, despite a stellar cast, it felt like the production team took Rent, power washed it, used a Brillo pad on it, and polished it to turn the show into something marketable for major network television. This process works well for other musicals, especially ones like Grease, that have made their mark on American pop culture by being perfectly packaged and easy to swallow.

Being perfect is not what makes Rent well, Rent. By all accounts, this is not a family friendly show, and beyond that it is far from perfect. It’s gritty, grimy, and about the gruesome realities of poverty, drug addiction, and a time in which an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence. Also, having Rent be produced by a major network like Fox is a layer of irony I can barely begin to comprehend. Mark’s, one of the main characters, storyline is about his struggle to be a successful film artist without “selling out” to a major network. An executive from Buzzline, a fictional tabloid network, calls him repeatedly and even sings, “Marky, sell your soul!” trying to get him to work for the company.

Vanessa Hudgens as Maureen Johnson sings to Kiersey Clemons as Joanne Jefferson. Joanne is sitting at a desk and looking somber
(Courtesy of Ray Mickshaw/Fox)

All of this isn’t to say that Rent: Live wasn’t fun to watch; so many of the songs in the show are iconic, and the cast was able to bring a fresh, new life to them (“Take Me or Leave Me” was everything middle school me wanted and more). Except, if Fox wanted to make a new generation of Rent lovers, this wasn’t the avenue for it.


EVAN TRIBELHORN | yeet haw | KXSU Arts Reporter


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