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RentLive: or, RentNot Quite Live

Photo By: Variety

2-5-2019

Clare Weisenfluh, Contributing Writer

“No day but today.” The words are a message of hope exchanged between characters of Rent who are living with AIDS. Unfortunately for Fox’s live musical adaptation, there seemed to be no day but the day before.

 

Brennin Hunt, who played Roger, took the old theater adage “Break a leg!” a bit too literally. After finishing the second-to-last scene of the show in dress rehearsal, Hunt had to hurry off stage and down a flight of stairs to do a costume change for the finale, all crammed into a few minutes of what would be a commercial break. After rushing down the steps and pivoting to turn, Hunt rolled his ankle and snapped one of the bones in the arch of his foot.

 

“I knew it wasn’t good because even with my in-ear monitors in I could hear it snap,” Hunt said in an interview with E! News.

 

After a long night in the emergency room and being confined to a wheelchair, it was determined that Hunt would not be able to perform the physically demanding role of Roger. With no understudies, the network made the decision to instead air the footage shot of the dress rehearsal.

 

What ensued was nearly three hours of confusing camera work, patchy audio quality, and the television viewers contending with a live audience who would often scream so loudly that the performers were drowned out. While stars like Vanessa Hudgens and Brandon Victor Dixon gave truly impressive performances, several of the actors were so-so at best.

 

How should footage that was never meant to be seen be judged by audiences? This was a common question among fans and reviewers alike, many of whom were underwhelmed. Should the actors and crew be forgiven for their mistakes, or were the mishaps that the production was plagued by more of an indicator that the show was never ready in the first place?

          

Thus, Rentwas pre-recorded up until the final scene of the show, which had not been recorded due to Hunt’s injury. The cast performed this live, with Hunt sitting on a table and his foot propped on a chair.

           

Prior to this and off the air, the cast had been performing along with the show in front of their audience in a format not unlike a table read, in a much less choreographed but no less emotional version of the show that was reminiscent of the day that Rent opened Off-Broadway; just hours before the show premiered in 1996, its creator, Jonathan Larson, died suddenly. The cast, deciding that Larson would want the show to go on, performed a toned-down Act I before the energy of the show crept up on them and they continued with a fully staged Act II.

 

And so, what Fox decided not to show—a less active but deeply soulful rendition of the show with a cast actually geared to perform—was probably truer to the spirit of Rent than the awkward footage viewers were given.

 

Despite every problem that the production faced, there were still quite a few moving moments, perhaps most of all the tribute to Larson at the end of the production. Larson’s picture was projected on set before the original Broadway cast appeared and performed “Seasons of Love” alongside their Rent Live counterparts. Though it was not enough to save the show, it demonstrated how much the performers cared for the production, and how much love the world still has for Rent.