Rent Live on Fox: Review, Pics, Videos. No Day But Yesterday


I had worried that, in Rent Live,  Fox television would ruin Jonathan Larson’s musical about bohemian life in the East Village of the 1980s by bowdlerizing it. I felt it worth watching anyway because its cast of celebrated young screen stars and recording artists would make the most of the catchy tunes.

As it turns out, it wasn’t the redacted content but rather a bad break and a series of poor choices that made “Rent” disappointing. And though the cast was clearly full of talent, only a few standouts brought it home in any memorable way. Brandon Victor Dixon, the one performer with the most live theater experience, floored us as Tom Collins, especially in “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” at Angel’s funeral. (see video below.)  (Dixon was also superb in the last live musical, Jesus Christ Superstar)

The bad break was a literal one — Brennin Hunt, who was cast as Roger, broke his foot during rehearsal. If the network were as committed as they pretend to be to reproducing the live theatrical experience on small screens, they would have replaced Hunt with his understudy. Apparently he had no understudy, because they replaced the live show instead. In all but the last few minutes, they showed us a “prerecorded” tape of the dress rehearsal from the day before.

It didn’t work; many of the performances seemed low energy, and the pacing was off.

That was just one of the bad choices.

The tone was perky, the implicit grit presented from a safe distance. In an effort to provide context to younger viewers, the production added statistics about AIDS, often voiced by Jordan Fisher as Mark. The impulse here is admirable, but nearly anti-theatrical. Younger viewers would be quite capable of looking up AIDS for themselves, if the show drew them emotionally into the world the characters inhabit.

I suspect the production was not more emotionally engaging in part because of another poor choice — TEN long commercial breaks, which frequently interrupted what should have been intense involvement in this tale of AIDS and addiction, poverty and eviction with glossy plugs for fast food and candy and insurance. These interruptions might also have been one of the factors in the lack of clarity; if you didn’t already know the story, it might have proven hard to follow.

If the networks want to make these “live musicals” special events, then they shouldn’t try to fit them into standard-practice TV formats. By its length alone — three hours! — Rent Live needed to be treated differently.

For all the missteps, however, there were some highlights — undeniable and unsurprising.  “Seasons of Love” was a bit too jazzed up for my taste in Rent Live, but it got to me anyway, just as it did when I first heard it at New York Theatre Workshop in 1996, and every time since. And then they did it as an encore with the original cast!



Principal cast: Kiersey Clemons (Joanne Jefferson), Brandon Victor Dixon (Tom Collins), Jordan Fisher (Mark Cohen), Vanessa Hudgens (Maureen Johnson), Brennin Hunt (Roger Davis), Mario (Benjamin Coffin III), Tinashe (Mimi Marquez), Valentina (Angel Dumont Schunard).

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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