FOX Delivers Solid ‘RENT: Live’ Despite Small Missteps

FOX Delivers Solid ‘RENT: Live’ Despite Small Missteps
The cast of FOX TV’s ‘RENT: Live’

The latest installment of live television presentations of Broadway musicals arrived last night as theater fans sat down to take in the 1996 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning RENT by the gone-too-soon Jonathan Larson on FOX TV.

It’s important to note that Brennin Hunt, the actor in the lead role of Roger, broke his ankle near the end of the dress rehearsal on Saturday. With no understudy waiting in the wings, FOX decided to (mostly) air the recorded dress rehearsal.

Cast member Jennifer Leigh Warren shared on Facebook that Sunday evening’s presentation was, indeed, live for the last two segments (from the parents’ calls to the end). The final scene was restaged with Hunt sitting with his foot propped up and the other actors working around him.

For those interested, while the filmed dress rehearsal made up much of the presentation Sunday night, the live audience in the studio were still treated to ‘concert’ performances during the telecast.

Some say it’s unfair to judge dress rehearsal performances that were never intended to be seen as some performers might have been ‘holding back’ or saving themselves for the real deal Sunday night.

However, I’m not sure how much of that might be true. The dress rehearsal was performed in front of a live audience, and having been an actor on Broadway and in national touring companies since the mid-1980s, I don’t know any folks who hold back in a final dress rehearsal with 1,100 people in attendance.

In any case, the version that landed last night on FOX was very enjoyable, if a bit uneven.

FOX Delivers Solid ‘RENT: Live’ Despite Small Missteps

For those who are new to the piece, RENT is a musical riff on the classic opera, La Boheme, adapted to tell the story of a group of struggling artists inhabiting a loft on the lower East Side of Manhattan

It’s amazing that RENT was even on television when you consider much of the play centers on a two queer relationships: one between a black man, Tom Collins (the amazing Brandon Victor Dixon), and a drag queen named Angel (played by RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Valentina); the second pairing the pragmatic Joanne (Kiersey Clemons) with flighty, flirty performance artist, Maureen (Vanessa Hudgens).

Rounding out the principal players are the aforementioned Hunt, whose Roger falls in love with Mimi (R&B singer Tinashe), Jordan Fisher as Mark, and their longtime friend turned landlord, Benny (singer Mario).

Overall, the production won the day with creative staging, excellent lighting and some tremendous performances.

Brandon Victor Dixon’s powerful, gut-punch reprise of “I’ll Cover You” was undeniable. If folks were ‘holding back’ for dress rehearsal, they forgot to tell Dixon. Raw, vocally on point, emotionally open – this is what RENT is about. Easily one of the high points of the production.

Fox TV’s RENT: Live was powerfully moving. And, the show put queer relationships and the AIDS epidemic back in front of a television audience.