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. FOX has posted several clips from the production as well as the ‘concert’ performances on YouTube here. Check it out to see what the studio audience saw while we viewed 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.

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.

Also, “Will I?” was beautifully staged with the cameras following Mark throughout the ‘city’ as layer upon layer of voices cried out,
building into a cacophony of personal prayers.

The fun and flirtatious “Take Me or Leave Me” gave Clemons and Hudgens a chance to bring the heat, and bring it they did.

A few quick take-aways:

Jordan Fisher’s “Mark” showed off some lithe dance moves in the show-stopping ‘La Vie Boheme.’

Mario landed with a solid “You’ll See.”

Broadway veteran Keala Settle delivered rich vocals and heart necessary to bring “Seasons of Love” to life.

Prior to his show-stopping “I’ll Cover You,” seeing Tom Collins climb in bed with his sick lover, Angel, was a powerful visual.

Vanessa Hudgens was totally game for Maureen’s performance art piece, “Over The Moon,” head thrashes and all.

There was a fun ‘in-joke’ during a flea market shopping scene where a sweater that looked like original Broadway cast member Anthony Rapp’s iconic costume was held up, and the shoppers gave a quick ‘oh no.’

I wish we’d seen more of Sonya Tayeh’s terrific choreography. At times the camera would pull back, and we’d see there was some great stuff going on in the background. Her staging for “Contact” was a highpoint.

And having the entire original Broadway cast appear at the end for the finale reprise of “Seasons of Love” was another emotional highlight.

There were some quibbles to be had:

Valentina, while game, was not vocally on point for “Today 4 You” and “I’ll Cover You.”

The production could have used a greater sense of urgency at times (Mr. Hunt and Tinashe, I’m looking at you). “Light My Candle” needed more flirtation in their ‘cat and mouse’ chase.

The constant camera movement might have undercut the aesthetic weight of the acting, cutting away too quick at times.

But, on a whole, RENT: Live was powerfully moving. And, the show put queer relationships and the AIDS epidemic back in front of a television audience.

Good for FOX. More please.

‘RENT: Live’ Actor Sprains Ankle In Dress Rehearsal, But The Show Will Go On

One of the lead actors for tonight’s live presentation of the hit Broadway musical RENT on Fox TV sprained his ankle yesterday during the final dress rehearsal.

But, as the saying goes, the show must go on.

Brennin Hunt, who plays one of the male leads, Roger, injured his ankle during the last ‘commercial break’ of the run-through on Saturday.

Update: US Weekly is reporting the injury as a broken ankle.

Brennin Huntin ‘RENT’ (Pamela Littky/FOX)

He did take part in the final 15 minutes of the show, but was described as ‘crestfallen’ over the injury.

Producers say Hunt will participate in the presentation tonight, albeit with some modifications.

According to The Hollywood Reporter,  Fox TV records the final dress rehearsals of their live musicals.

Fox may choose to drop in some recorded segments for the more athletic moments in Hunt’s show where he’s staged to run and jump up and down stairs, etc…

Rent: Live director Alex Rudzinski told reporters, “I think on Grease we lost sound for eight seconds and we switched. I think we had to switch to the backup for eight seconds, and no one noticed.”

The show will go on tonight starting at 8pm ET (PT tape delayed). Check out the cast of RENT Live rehearsing the Act Two opener, “Seasons of Love.”

Casting Announced For Upcoming Live Televised Production Of RENT

Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical), Brandon Victor Dixon (who killed in in this year’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live!), and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Valentina have been announced for Fox’s 2019 live production of the Broadway hit musical, Rent.

Dixon will play ‘Tom Collins,’ Hudgens will take on ‘Maureen,’ and Valentina will portray the cross-dressing ‘Angel.’

Valentina becomes the first drag queen to be cast in a primetime live musical production. She was a fan favorite in Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, winning Miss Congeniality.

Rent will also feature Kiersey Clemons (Hearts Beat Loud) as ‘Joanne,’ Jordan Fisher (Hamilton) as ‘Mark,’ Brennin Hunt (Nashville) as ‘Roger,’ Mario (Empire) as ‘Benjamin,’ and recording artist Tinashe (Dancing With the Stars) as ‘Mimi.’

Tony Award nominee Keala Settle, of “This Is Me” fame in the movie The Greatest Showman, will also be featured in the production singing the solo from “Seasons of Love.”

Original Broadway director Michael Greif will again helm the Pulitzer Prize-winning Jonathan Larson musical.

The 1996 rock musical, loosely inspired by Puccini’s La Bohème, was an instant smash hit and was responsible for launching the careers of original cast members Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Taye Diggs, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Jesse L. Martin.

The televised production is set to air January 27, 2019.

(h/t TheOUTfront)

Fox TV Chooses RENT As Next Live Action Musical

Broadway smash-hit musical RENT, winner of 4 Tony Awards, will be Fox TV’s next live action musical production.

From Variety:

“Rent” tells the story of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams during a time of great social and political turmoil, under the shadow of AIDS. Set in New York City’s gritty East Village, the show is a re-imagining of Puccini’s “La Bohème.”

With the estate of the late original playwright Jonathan Larson, Marc Platt — who worked on Fox’s “Grease: Live” musical,” “La La Land” and “Wicked” — will executive produce the event. Other executive producers are Adam Siegel, Julie Larson, Al Larson and Revolution Studios’ Vince Totino, Scott Hemming and Marla Levine.

More details and casting will be announced later. No premiere date has been set for “Rent.”

The live musical trend at the broadcast networks started in recent years at NBC, which kicked off the craze with Carrie Underwood’s “Sound Of Music Live,” which was then followed by “Peter Pan Live,” “The Wiz Live,” and most recently, “Hairspray Live.” In the works at NBC is “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which will air on Easter Sunday 2018, plus “A Few Good Men” and “Bye Bye Birdie,” both of which do not have airdates yet. Later this month, ABC will air a TV movie of “Dirty Dancing,” though the project is not live.

I was on Broadway the year RENT opened, and I remember it was all anyone could talk about. It was the coolest thing anyone had seen on the Great White Way (until the next coolest thing came around).

The show features leading characters in same-sex relationships as well as shining a bright spotlight on the AIDS epidemic. For it’s time, it was quite the groundbreaking piece of theater.

Watch the original Broadway cast perform on the 1996 Tony Awards below.

GOTHAM begins tonight on Fox TV

Tonight on Fox TV network, the newest imagining of the Batman saga begins with GOTHAM.

With (the future police commissioner) James Gordon as a focus, watch as the childhood stories of Batman, Catwoman, the Penguin, the Joker and more unfold.

Advance reviews have been very strong.  I was a huge fan of SMALLVILLE and am enjoying ARROW, so I’ll definitely be checking this out tonight.

Trailer below:

Live TV version of GREASE in development by FOX

Following in the footsteps of NBC’s Sound of Music Live, Fox announced Monday that it is staging a three-hour production of the iconic musical to air in 2015.

From Variety:

Fox has added a three-hour live production of “Grease” to its 2015 calendar, Fox Chairman of Entertainment Kevin Reilly announced today.

Currently titled “Grease Live,” this production of the iconic Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs musical about 1950s high schoolers will feature an as-yet-to-be-named young ensemble cast.

Paramount released the 1978 feature rendition of “Grease,” which starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, and still controls the TV rights. The studio last year relaunched its TV production operation and has said that mining the library for remakes is a key priority.

Here’s the press release from FOX:

Get ready to do the hand jive as FOX enrolls at Rydell High with GREASE LIVE (working title), a LIVE three-hour production of the massively popular crossover musical “Grease,” it was announced today by Kevin Reilly, Chairman of Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company (FOX); and Paramount Television. Scheduled to air LIVE during 2015 and featuring a young ensemble cast, GREASE LIVE (wt) will reintroduce the great music and timeless story to an entirely new generation.

Based on the 1971 Broadway musical of the same name with book, lyrics and music by the legendary team of Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs, the 1978 hit film “Grease,” starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, grossed nearly $400 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing movie musical ever.

“From Broadway to film, and across generations, ‘Grease’ is one of the most beloved musical stories ever told – and we can’t wait to bring it to our air in a spectacular live event,” said Shana C. Waterman, Senior Vice President of Event Series for FOX. “Its iconic characters and addictive songs make it the perfect fit for FOX, and we’re going to give it the kind of star power and production quality to make every Sandy, Danny, Rizzo and Kenickie out there want to get up and sing along.”

“It’s incredibly exciting to have one of our first major network productions be based on this universally celebrated Paramount title, and we’re thrilled to be partnering with Kevin, Joe and Shana on this epic television event,” said Amy Powell, President, Paramount TV. “FOX’s passion for engaging audiences with bold storytelling and live musical formats make it a perfect home for this special broadcast.”

GREASE LIVE will electrify television audiences everywhere with live performances of the unforgettable Casey/Jacobs songs “Summer Nights,” “Greased Lightnin’” and “We Go Together”; as well as the iconic songs written by John Farrar, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and ”You’re the One That I Want.” The broadcast will reimagine some of the story’s most memorable moments and characters from the T-Birds and Pink Ladies, including DANNY ZUKO, RIZZO and SANDY.