Review: Rent Live on Fox

There’s No Day But Today to discuss Fox’s attempt at Rent Live.

There are 525,600 reasons why Rent should not have been chosen to be a network television live musical and yet Fox tested it “Out Tonight” in their latest installment of their live musical series. Live broadway shows have become increasingly popular in recent years, with examples like Jesus Christ Superstar on NBC and Grease on Fox. Many people enjoy Broadway music but are unable to see the shows live in the big cities where they are performed such as New York or Chicago, so in theory, performing these shows on a live television broadcast fixes this problem. “I Should Tell You” that in reality though, they are often flawed attempts that censor all the greatest parts about Broadway and live theatre in general.

The entire Rent Live cast following the performance.

Fox’s latest “live” Broadway escapade was Rent, Jonathan Larson’s widely popular and beloved musical based on the Italian opera “La Bohème.” The musical follows a group of struggling artists living in New York City in the late 1980s, during the height of the AIDS crisis. Rent gives an unapologetic look at sexuality, love, and relationships (romantic and platonic) during a time when there was a lot of fear and hatred surrounding those who were different or strayed from the norm. The problem with choosing to perform Larson’s fiercely progressive musical on television is that network censors prohibited certain words or entire verses of songs to air. By changing the original songs to fit what is deemed “acceptable” for the general public to view during prime time television directly counteracts what Rent was created to do and it downplays the seriousness of the AIDS crisis. Rent is meant to make a statement, it always has been, and I think Fox took a big risk deciding to choose this play for their live performance this year just because it is popular. You cannot censor Rent without also censoring the meaning and truth behind it. If they were unable to present it in its original, daring form then they should have chosen another musical entirely.

But Rent Live happened. Well… Rent sort of Live happened. The show that aired on Fox ended up being the pre recorded rehearsal performance from Saturday night instead because Brennin Hunt, who plays musician Roger Davis, broke his foot and was unable to meet the physical demands of the actual live show They had no understudies since this was not a traditional Broadway show, but perhaps Fox will learn from this experience if they continue this series. The last fifteen minutes of the broadcast were the only live aspect of it as the feed switched from the pre recorded rehearsal to the actual live broadcast: insert Hunt wearing a boot on his broken foot. It was disappointing and misleading that the show was not actually live until the very end. Perhaps this is why the production was lackluster. The rehearsal was never meant to be what the viewers saw so the performers were reserved in their delivery. Maybe if the world got the live performance they were promised, the overall show would have shown more instead of relying heavily on two performers to carry the two acts.

The original Broadway cast of Rent came out on stage at the end of the performance.

Most of the performers (a mix of stage and screen actors) were adequate, nothing to the traditional level of regular Broadway performers. But it is important to remember that fact: they are not regular Broadway performers. I tried to keep this in mind while watching the show, but some performers just never hit the mark. Maybe on “Another Day” they could be the cast to carry this play to success, but in the performance that was aired, Vanessa Hudgens and Jordan Fisher were the only consistent performers. Hudgens successfully portrayed non-committal, eccentric activist, Maureen, and she thrived in songs such as “Take Me or Leave Me” and “Over the Moon.” Fisher, who played narrator and struggling filmmaker Mark Cohen, carried the show during “La Vie Boheme” and “Goodbye Love.” Both Hudgens and Fisher brought a much needed youthful and exciting atmosphere to the show that caught my attention long enough to keep watching the show.  It’s also worth mentioning that the best song in the whole show was “I’ll Cover You” (reprise) during Angel’s funeral when Brandon Victor Dixon delivered a soulful, heartbreaking version of the lyrics. Despite the many ups and downs in the performance, I think all viewers will agree that the true evil of the performance was the live audience and their high pitched screams that drowned out the performer’s voices.

Overall, Fox delivered a subpar performance of the iconic, groundbreaking rock style bohemian musical. Rent is a show that cannot be expected to conform to network television guidelines and still carry the same weight. Fox was doomed before the show even went on because Rent thrives purely in a progressive, non judgmental theater setting. There were few songs that made up for all the mishaps that occurred, and the return of the original Broadway cast to sing “Seasons of Love” as the credits rolled was the only true aspect to the performance that made it worth watching. Hopefully Fox and other networks will learn from the mistakes of Rent Live for future performances because all I thought after the show ended was “Will I” watch another one of these? It’s still undecided.

The original cast members who played Mark and Angel sing with their live version counterparts.