Tristan Johnson, Archivist
On Sunday, Jan. 27, FOX released their newest endeavor in the live musical theater genre, this time with the Tony-award winning “Rent.” This particular production included an all-around star-studded cast, including Vanessa Hudgens, Jordan Fisher, Tinashe, Kiersey Clemons and Valentina.
The musical follows the daily lives of a group of friends in New York as they work through the hardships of life during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s. With ground-breaking diversity, difficult topics and powerful ballads, “Rent” has changed the very history of musical theater since premiering in 1996. Tyler Coates, a culture editor for Esquire, said “A show that once was so bold to feature the then-graphic image of a drag queen mounting another man onstage will eventually see its own live television production…”
FOX had originally intended to broadcast this rendition of “Rent” live. Unfortunately, the night before it was supposed to be recorded live, one of the leading actors (Brennin Hunt) broke his foot. Due to this accident, FOX made the last-minute decision to air the pre-recorded final dress rehearsal, with the entire cast coming together at the end of the musical live for the finale.
This rocky conclusion is not so far off from the rocky beginnings that the original company of “Rent” faced on their way to stardom. Jonathan Larson, the writer and composer for Rent, died unexpectedly the morning of their first preview performance off-Broadway. His death did not stop the cast from performing their hearts out, for they knew that Larson’s art was about the struggles of life, and how love and appreciation for one another can overcome mountains.
While this production has earned much praise, especially with surprise standout performances from Vanessa Hudgens and Jordan Fisher, the production was also met with various critiques.
Aja Romano, an internet culture staff writer for Vox, stated that “Rent was a seminal generational voice that’s still important today- and that voice was muffled by “Rent: Live’s” unnecessary production issues.” One of the most significant production issues that occurred during “Rent: Live,” from a viewer perspective, is the fact that there were no understudies. In my eyes, it is unacceptable for a production that is backed by such a large and world-renowned company to not think of hiring understudies. Better yet, they could have still televised the production live with Hunt’s injury. Having one of the main characters of “Rent” played by someone in a wheelchair would have added to the overall diversity of the musical.
The fact that FOX decided to air a dress-rehearsal instead of a live performance was not fair to the performers, as well as to the audience. Yes, some of the vocals during the performance were less-than desirable, but the viewers at home will never have known what could have been if the show was televised live.
With all of this being said, for all of the die-hard “Rent” fans out there who are upset about unfulfilled promises or the lack of vocals (including myself!) … Stop and think for just a moment and appreciate the fact that a show like this was televised to over 3 million viewers, a show about love, acceptance and the joy of life. Picture a young kid watching this show, who is struggling with their identity and living in a not-so supportive environment. Seeing queer people on television screens having success and loving one another can be life changing, and that is what “Rent” originally set out to be: a musical about loving one another, accepting one another and living life to fullest. Because after all, there are only 525,600 minutes in a year!