Viva La Vie Boheme

Rent Live aired on January 27, 2019 on Fox (or CityTV in Canada). I’ll admit I was hesitant about this one. From the moment it was announced I was worried I’d be disappointed. (I’ve written before about my love of Rent, which you can read here I knew I would still watch it though. And then I was hearing some good things about this production. I did not get to watch Rent Live when it aired on 27th but got the chance to watch it a few days later when it was uploaded to the CityTV website. Somewhat surprisingly to me I was able to go into it with a fairly open mind. Once it started I was able to just let go and enjoy it. And enjoy it I did! It’s actually been a little while since I last watched Rent (either the movie or the Filmed Live on Broadway version) but this was a really nice reminder of how much I love the show. Now I want to go off and watch all of the versions, including rewatching this one.

Let’s get this out of the way first. It’s fair if you didn’t enjoy this production. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But. If your biggest complaint is that it wasn’t “live,” that they aired the dress rehearsal, I don’t feel that is anything worth complaining about. Sure you can be a little disappointed but, unless you were there for the filming, in the end, whether it was filmed on Saturday or Sunday, it doesn’t really matter. I feel bad for Brennin (and the rest of the cast) and I wish him a speedy recovery. It is such a shame that this happened and they didn’t get to do their full final performance but we, the home audience, still got a production that was filmed live. Not broadcast live, but still a filmed live production. I would love it if they released a recording of the concert they did in lieu of the full production (like as a bonus feature on a DVD release or as a bonus with the digital release, like on iTunes) but I am glad we still got to see basically the whole show as they had intended it to be! It’s lucky that at the end of the show it actually works for Roger to stay in one place. I do wonder if now these live musical events will actually have understudies, should anything like this happen again. I guess we’ll see! But like I said before, I enjoyed this production and that is going to be my main focus for the rest of this post (ok, with some minor criticisms here and there)!

Overall I thought the casting was pretty good. Some roles were maybe not as strong as others but overall everyone was effective in their roles. I was particularly a fan of Jordan Fisher as Mark. There were a couple of times when I thought his Mark might just be a bit too cool but I think it worked for him and I really enjoyed his performance. Brandon Victor Dixon was also an excellent Collins (yes, “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” made me cry). I was happy to see Keala Settle in such a featured role too! In general I’m always going to be a fan of the theatre people that are cast in these shows. And I hope they continue to cast more theatre people in these productions, and in the leading roles in these productions. They are getting better with it, so I hope it continues.

It was so nice seeing the original cast back together at the end. I knew they were going to be there- I’d seen all the posts about it so it wasn’t a surprise- but it was still great to see! It would have been nice if there had been a way for them to move Brennin forward to be with everyone else, but I understand why they couldn’t (and it was kind of fun seeing Adam sitting with Brennin on the table).

I was a fan of the larger ensemble for this production of Rent. I knew there was going to be more dance in this version and I had been curious as to how that would work out, since Rent isn’t typically a very “dance-y” show but I think it actually worked really well here and in that space. I loved the moment during “Rent” when the ensemble were all drumming on the scaffolding. I do wish we could have seen more of ensemble (at least in the background) during “Tango Maureen” because the glimpses we did get looked very cool.

I also loved the set for Rent Live. I thought it was really effective and, well, cool, with good reminiscences of the original set (ie the scaffolding and the Christmas tree). I found the use of the space to be quite effective.

I think it’s good that they’re continuing to include live audiences with these live TV productions. There were some times in this production however, that I thought the audience, or rather the audience reactions, might be a bit too much. It might just be that we need to find more of a balance with the audience, a balance between the sort of “rock concert” vibe and a typical theatre audience vibe. I think the loud cheering and screaming worked better for Jesus Christ Superstar with Jesus being the sort of celebrity figure, but Rent is different and it seems a bit more out of place for these characters to be acknowledging the audience. All that being said, maybe it was a bit “more” because it was the dress rehearsal audience- the first real audience for the show, everyone’s excited to be there, it’s a different energy, and no one went in expecting it to be aired. Maybe it would have been more subdued (for lack of a better word) if it had been the “actual performance” (though I’m thinking probably not).

As with each of these live TV musicals I can’t wait to see what happens with the next one(s) as they keep learning and trying different things. Now that Hair has been cancelled, I’m even just interested to see what the next musical will be, let alone how they’ll do it. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!



What’s the Buzz?

I just watched Jesus Christ Superstar Live for the second time and I have to say, for me,  the buzz is good! I loved this production and I was so glad that I actually got to watch it live! I missed the last few live musicals but I was back home for Easter which meant I had cable and was able to watch this one!

I’ll admit, Jesus Christ Superstar has never really been my favourite musical. I saw the movie from 1973 years ago and I just didn’t really take to it then. There were a few songs from the musical that I liked and would listen to, but as a whole it was never one I knew by heart (I think that is going to be changing soon though). I’ve been getting more into it recently (starting before the live production aired). Not long ago I watched the 2000 movie (Tony Vincent was part of the reason I wanted to watch this particular version) and I was reminded of more of the songs and that I do quite like the score. I’ve also been reading Andrew Lloyd Webber’s memoir, Unmasked, and reading what he has to say about the creation of Jesus Christ Superstar is so interesting (I’m just at the chapter about the show going to Broadway).

Another confession, it was only in the last couple of weeks that I actually got excited about Jesus Christ Superstar Live. It definitely helped when I realized how many amazing Broadway actors were going to be in it! In my opinion, casting done right for these live musicals means casting Broadway actors and thankfully they did with this show! It also helped my excitement when I figured out that I would actually be somewhere with cable when it aired and would be able to watch it live.

I’m going to say this now, I think this was the best of the live TV musicals so far. All of the elements came together so well to make it an excellent production. The cast was amazing (and huge) and the set was really cool (and also huge), along with the rest of the design.

Let’s start by talking about that cast. John Legend was probably the one I was least sure about. I know he’s a great singer but we haven’t seen him in anything like this, and Jesus is quite a demanding role. Overall I thought he did a good job. I really liked Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and thought her voice really suited Mary’s songs. I loved the Act 2 song she sang with Jason Tam, who was great as Peter. Norm Lewis, as Caiaphas, has such a beautiful voice and amazing range- those low notes! Even the casting of Alice Cooper as King Herod worked well for this production. It’s definitely a role that works for celebrity casting. (It did kind of bug me that took the “lead” bow with John, Brandon and Sara though, since he only sings the one song, but I get it- the power of celebrity.) The real standout for me was Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas. He was absolutely amazing. I’m so glad it was a Broadway vet playing Judas, as it is also a demanding role, and Judas sings some of my favourite songs in the show, and Brandon nailed it! This was one of those casting choices that definitely helped to increase my excitement for the production ahead of time.

It was also exciting for me realizing how many people in the cast I’ve actually seen perform live including Norm Lewis (Phantom of the Opera and Once On This Island), Jason Tam (If/Then), Billy Lewis Jr. (Bat Out of Hell) who was in the ensemble, and Brandon Niederauer (School of Rock) who was the kid playing guitar.

The ensemble deserves some recognition too as every person brought so much amazing talent to the production, and even though we only got to hear one or two solo lines from most of them, they were all amazing! Used well I think large ensembles can be really cool, with their physical presence and their voices filling the space. And this is one of those productions in which it worked extremely well! I think the staging of this production was very well done and having such a large cast for it worked in its favour. The overall production value of it is really what made it the best of the live TV musicals. I loved the set and the overall design.  I was impressed by just how big the set really was. It seemed big enough and then there were a couple of times where it extended beyond what you thought was there. The end scene with the cross was a particularly beautiful and effective moment. I liked how the orchestra/band was such a big part of it too.

The addition of the live audience worked well for this production and added an interesting dynamic. It definitely had a positive impact on the energy of the performance. There were a couple of times, especially near the beginning where the sound of the audience almost overpowered the sound of the performance, but really, that happens sometimes when you go to see a live show and that’st part of the experience of seeing a live show, it’s just a little different and takes some getting used to when you’re sitting at home watching it on your TV and are not a part of that audience. (Can you imagine actually being a part of that live audience?!) Let’s see if the next musicals moving forward will follow suit! (I know Grease Live also had a live audience but it did seem different this time around, maybe because it was one set stage for this production.)

I loved the added bits during the commercial breaks when it would show the goings-on backstage and seeing pictures of the crew online changing sets and cleaning up the glitter. It also got me thinking, it must be hard doing these productions and having to stop for commercials, especially with a sung through show like Jesus Christ Superstar, as I imagine it would throw off the flow of performing the piece as opposed to just playing it straight through as would usually be done. But I also thought, with a show as vocally demanding as this, maybe it’s nice for them to actually get those water breaks. Not being a performer myself, I can’t really speak to that too much but I imagine it might things a little more difficult in their own way. It certainly didn’t seem to hinder any of the performances though!

I think this production showed what is possible with these live musicals and set the bar pretty high for any future productions, if they do continue to make them, which I sincerely hope they do, especially if they’re at this level, or better yet, if they keep making them better and better. And it shows how well it works with theatre people in the lead roles (Brandon Victor Dixon) as well as in the ensemble. I’m interested to see where they go from here and I’m excited for more repeat viewings of Jesus Christ Superstar!