Blog: Our Special Report on Rent ("Live!") on Fox

Our writer Brittany Crowell weighs in on the unpredicted turn of events for the "live" TV broadcast of Rent on Fox...

Brandon Victor Dixon and the Cast of Rent on Fox

Last night’s RENT Live on Fox was... not so live! Due to an injury during Saturday evening’s dress rehearsal (the company’s Roger, Brennin Hunt, broke his ankle during the final scene), the pre-recorded dress rehearsal was broadcast in its place, swapping over to the live recording for the final moments between Roger (seated on a table with his ankle in cast elevated for safety) and Mimi, and a reunion between this 2019 TV cast and the 1996 Broadway cast of RENT for a special closing rendition of “Seasons of Love.”

Regardless, fans of the rock musical should be happy with the recording. Fox’s production breathed new life into the still-relevant musical and further brought awareness to its central themes through statistics about the effect of HIV/AIDS spoken over some of the instrumental transitions.

At almost 30 years old, watching the broadcast reminded me of my early high school years, when my friends and I felt seen in the passionate and rebellious artists of RENT and would run through the halls of our magnet school for the performing arts, singing loud renditions of “La Vie Bohème,” and dancing on the tables in the cafeteria. Last night’s broadcast brought back those fond memories, as I found myself singing along, while being reminded of the youth of these characters – who at 14 seemed much older than me, at 28 remind me of being in my early 20s and figuring out how to be an adult and an artist in New York City, “center of the universe.”

The cast of RENT Live! were all incredibly strong, bringing energy and agility to the performances of these loved characters. Keep an eye out for these emerging artists, as I wouldn’t be surprised if they soon became household names!

The true standout of the evening was Jordan Fisher, whose Mark, a character that in previous iterations I’ve seen has been boring and taken a backseat to his friends behind his camera, was energetic and led his friends in their love and embracement of “La Vie Bohème.” Fisher brought life, youthful energy, and passion to Mark, allowing him to be the star of the story for me in a way that character never has before.

Vanessa Hudgens was zany and wild as Maureen and lit up the stage with the fierce Kiersey Clemons, who brought new power and oomph to type A, list-loving Joanne. Tinashe’s Mimi was both fun and loveable, really bringing down the house, as she swung from the scaffolding, belting “Out Tonight.” Brennin Hunt was a solidly angsty Roger, and Valentina and Brandon Victor Dixon were perfectly coupled as Angel and Tom Collins; Dixon’s reprise of “I’ll Cover You” brought not only the full cast, but many watching from home to tears.

The set for the TV musical filled an entire warehouse and the characters were able to climb and jump on scaffolding and structures built to look like elevated subway tracks (with station entrances from the Astor Place 6 to the 1st Avenue L). Scene shifts were seamless and what once was a playground for Collins and Angel in “I’ll Cover You,” became the café where the Bohemians celebrated Maureen’s performance. Ah, the things you can do when supported by the camera’s ability to turn focus and the network’s ability to create a big budget performance warehouse.

That being said, this also came with a few moments of dizzying camera work that brought the characters out of focus and blurred the screen as the camera attempted to take in too much at once. You gain and you lose things from recording a live performance. Through the filming of RENT Live!, we were able to see the characters close up, to be able to focus on what the camera wanted us to see, however, in doing so, we lost the moments that in the Broadway production highlighted the parallels between stories, such as when Mimi echoes and sings along with the AIDS support group “no day but today” to convince Roger to leave the apartment.

I haven’t seen all of the recent live musical broadcasts, but I’ve seen enough to believe that the stationary, yet impressively large-scaled performance settings used for RENT Live! and similarly Jesus Christ Superstar Live! in Concert have much more success than the studio set broadcasts I’ve seen (of Grease Live! and A Christmas Story Live!). It’s impossible to capture the energy of a performer onstage and their anticipating audience through a screen, but these performances come closer to bringing those experiences to homes around the globe than many others I’ve seen.

While the audience attending the filming showed a disappointing lack of diversity, I can only hope that the broadcast reached many at home. I hope that someone saw this musical and met these characters for the first time and recognized them, felt seen by them, and felt the love that they show towards each other. As the musical’s most famous song states, “...measure your life in Love.”

(Photo by Kevin Estrada / Courtesy of Fox)