RENT Live Roundup : The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

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  • Noah Golden, Brittany Strelluf, Erin Karll

“Rent: Live,” which aired January 27th on Fox, is the third time Jonathan Larson’s landmark pop-opera has been filmed. There’s the 2005 film adaptation (which recently got the Movie Musical Shakedown treatment) and the closing Broadway cast, which was filmed in 2008. The live broadcast stayed true to the roots of “Rent,” while tweaking elements to make it feel fresh and contemporary. Some changes worked, some were expected (you apparently can’t say dildos on primetime TV) and some were downright baffling. To pick apart the good, bad and ugly moments of the broadcast, we enlisted two of our critics Noah Golden, Brittany Strelluf and Erin Karll.

While Noah and Brittany are not super-fans of the show going in, Erin said she’s been a “Renthead for over a decade.” They all agreed that the three “enjoyed this production very much.” As Brittany put it: “‘Rent’ is about finding the joy in a world full of bad, light in a world of darkness, and love in a time of hatred. We need that message now, as much as we needed it when it was written, as much as we will need it in the future.”

The Good

NG: I was unaware of much of the cast before the broadcast and, in general, it was a strong group. Jordan Fisher was a wonderful Mark, especially when paired with the fabulous Kiersey Clemons (who is she and why isn’t she in more things?!). Brandon V. Dixon should be contractually obligated to be in every live TV musical. Surprisingly, it was Vanessa Hudgens who stole the show. Her Maureen felt unique and fresh and full of life.

BS: Brennin Hunt was made for his role of Roger; his voice is a joy to listen to. Another vocal joy was Keala Settle, who was glorious in “Seasons of Love.” The beautiful and charismatic Valentina was tremendous in her dancing, stage presence, acting and movement.

EK: The camera work was perfect to catch the close-up reactions. I felt connected to the story.

NG: Some are “Rent” purists, but I liked the updating of the book that contextual the AIDs crisis a bit more for a younger generation. Having stats about how many were affected and having some of the Life Support group look visible sick, really drove home how serious and deadly the disease was at the time.

BS: The choreography by Sonya Tayeh was wonderful and the set/costumes were indicative of the era. Plus, Vanessa’s cow pants were hysterical.

EK: “Will I” was so stunning. The use of camera angles to show the viewers what Mark’s camera was seeing was a brilliant touch. This also gave everyone in the cast a chance to show themselves off. The ensemble was so strong and filled out the large stage and story with love and care.

NG: Finally, someone solved the riddle of “Seasons Of Love.” Having it be woven into the story, instead of just singing it standing face out, makes so much more sense. Making the soloist be the Life Support leader also enhanced the song’s meaning.

BS: The end reprise of Seasons of Love with the original cast was incredibly heartwarming.

EK: I was not expecting “Contact” to make the cut. So beautiful filmed and Angel was stunning and powerful from beginning to end.

NG: The tribute to Jonathan Larson was gorgeous and really reinforced the show’s thesis of the fragility of life and art.

EK: The live finale was beautiful. This is why I love live theatre. A lead actor breaks his foot and the team figures out a way to have him still onstage with little to no effect on the story. I can also see truly how close the cast grew together. Having the original Broadway cast joining this cast brought me to tears. Passing the torch and message along to love and live like there is no day but today.

The Bad

BS: There were a few moments where some members of the cast seemed a bit tired or strained vocally.

NG: There’s no way around it, James Leyva (or Valentina) was really pitchy throughout. Tinashe was a bit as well. It was a dress rehearsal, so you can’t be too harsh but it was distracting.

EK: The overall censorship. I knew there would have to be major edits for them to be able to tell the story on network TV. Some were so unnecessary and just took me out of the story.

BS: There were a few times where the live audience cheers overwhelmed the actors’ performances.

NG: A lot of the blocking worked really well, but having Mark and Roger crowd-surf during “What You Own,” which should be a real soul-searching moment of introspection for these two characters, felt like an odd choice.

EK: Is it just me or did they cue the audience to applaud a little late sometimes? There were many times lyrics or lines were missed because the actor ended the pause and then the crowd cheered.

The Ugly

BS: The most disappointing thing about this was that Hunt was hurt in the dress rehearsal. Wishing him a speedy recovery from his broken foot.

NG: Given Hunt’s injury, I would have rather just watched a concert version (which they did, untelevised, during the broadcast) instead of a pre-filmed dress where the performers weren’t operating at 100 percent. Up until “La Vie Boheme” it all felt a little lackluster. I don’t know if it was the performances or the swirling camera work or the frequent commercial breaks, but I didn’t connect to this “Rent” as much as I did with the Broadway cast that was filmed in 2008. It had beautiful moments (like the “I’ll Cover You Reprise” and “Goodbye Love”) and some incredibly fun ones (“Take Me Or Leave Me” or “La Vie Boheme”) but it ultimately felt like a series of scenes instead of one coherent narrative.