Who’s more disappointed? Fans or my parents?
by Katelyn Cody
(Artwork by Maddie Rizzo – Instagram @rizzo.art)
The latest in a string of beloved musicals broadcast on live TV took place on Sunday, January 2th, with FOX’s production of the 1996 rock musical, RENT. RENT tells the story of a group of young artists living in the Alphabet City neighborhood of New York City struggling to make ends meet while also dealing with the AIDS crisis.
After weeks of anticipation from passive theater fans and Rent-heads alike, the production that was broadcast was not quite the one we were expecting. After actor Brennin Hunt, who played Rodger, broke his foot during the last 15 minutes of the final dress rehearsal, the production team decided to use a recording of the dress rehearsal. However, the final scene of the show was reblocked and broadcast live with Hunt sitting down. But the show must go on. Unfortunately for the audience and actors alike that show was just a dress rehearsal and while most dress rehearsals are supposed to be final show level quality, it was obvious that several of the actors were marking their parts in order to save their voices and energy for the final production. Such was the case of Valentina, who played the iconic part of Angel Dumott Schunard. The part is incredibly demanding and it was clear that she was saving her voice for Sunday night. Thus, you might say that the major casting conundrum was the lack of understudies.
As for the actual cast members, I loved Jordan Fisher as Mark and thought that he truly carried the show. On the other hand, I disliked the casting of Tinashe as Mimi. While her performance was okay, I couldn’t look past the fact that she’s not Latina. Mimi is the only character in the show whose race is actually written into her part; there are several lines she sings referencing Latinx culture and there is a voicemail her mom leaves her in Spanish. I don’t know if this was an oversight on the producers’ parts, but I wish more attention had been paid to her casting. Another aspect of casting that gave me mixed feelings was the inclusion of Keala Settle in the ensemble. I absolutely adore her. I loved her in the Greatest Showman and Waitress, and while I thoroughly enjoyed her performance as a soloist, I thought that she didn’t get the credit she deserved. And the production team acknowledges her talents just judging by the amount of solos they gave her.
Another detail that got on my nerves was my ability to sing along. If you know RENT, you know that it is not the most PG of musicals. In order to get around that fact there were a fair amount of changes to the show’s lyrics. It wasn’t so much the fact that they changed some things that annoyed me, but what they chose to change. Just one example, that might be representative of FOX as a company, was that the word “dildo” was censored, but “fags” was not. It got to a point were I couldn’t sing along during one of the most iconic songs, “La Vie Boheme” because entire verses had been rewritten. Additionally, the producer’s choice to include the musical number “Contact” was shocking to me as it an incredibly sexually explicit song and most “family-friendly” (i.e. high school edition) productions of RENT omit it.
However, this production was not entirely disappointing. I think the highlight of the show was Brandon Victor Dixon’s (who played Collins) performance of “I’ll Cover You (Reprise).” That song is easily the most emotional song of the show, and possibly one of the most emotional songs in all of musical theater, and Dixon executed it beautifully. The other enjoyable highlight of the show for me was the inclusion of the original broadway cast during the final scene. It was heartwarming for to see the entire cast together after having listened to the album for the past eight years.
If you felt robbed of the experience of watching RENT live, then I highly recommend checking out Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway. The final performance of the Broadway show in 2008 was filmed and released as a movie. Personally I would have preferred it if the producers had just broadcast the live concert version of the show that was put on for people who already had tickets to the live production and then came back to do the actual show when Hunt’s foot heals. Or, even better, they should have gotten understudies. While it is disappointing that the viewers were not given the show they thought they were getting, it was probably even more disappointing for the actors who worked incredibly hard for months only to not put on the final production and have their performances measured by the quality of a prerecorded dress rehearsal.