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 https://dreamingofthoseneonlights.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/cause-everything-is-rent/) 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!