"Rent: Live" was, simply put, a mess.
Jonathan Larson’s celebrated re-imagining of Puccini’s “La Bohème” hit both the stage and our televisions last Sunday in the form of a live-streamed performance. The musical follows a group of friends over the course of a year as they face the trials and tribulations of their lives — relationship issues, homelessness and, most notably, HIV/AIDS.
Larson’s musical was groundbreaking when it made its Broadway debut over 20 years ago as it addressed topics most were too afraid to mention. A movie rendition, released in 2005, made the story accessible for a new generation while still maintaining its integrity. "Rent: Live," with a few exceptions, was a watered-down bastardization of this idea.
After all, the musical was aired on Fox; it could never truly be itself.
As the musical aired, fans were quick to notice lyric changes and censorship decisions that were seemingly nonsensical. For example, in “La Vie Boheme,” the original lyric “to dildos” was changed to “to latex,” yet “mucho masturbation” made the final cut.
It’s just confusing. Why choose such a taboo musical if your network has censorship standards? The whole backbone of "Rent" is its edge.
Even if all of the actors knocked it out of the park, the musical would probably still be a mess. None of it seemed to mesh together, despite how well "Rent" flows normally. My first thought was to blame it on the fact that it’s live and a little chaotic to film, obviously.
But it wasn’t even live!
One of the main characters, Roger (Brennin Hunt) injured his ankle the night before, and for some inexplicable reason there were no understudies. They decided to salvage the show by airing the dress rehearsal instead.
I understand they really didn’t have much choice, but come on.
During the dress rehearsal, actors were likely “saving their voice” and energy for the true live performance. This showed in the off-key, lackluster performances the audience was, unfortunately, privy to.
James Leyva (Angel) sounded like he was down with a cold the full two hours, and managed to deliver a flat performance of arguably the most interesting character, while it was revealed that Vanessa Hudgens is definitely more well-equipped to handle a role like Gabriella in "High School Musical" than a powerhouse like Maureen.
Most of the other actors were okay, but didn’t particularly move me. It felt like they were doing just enough for it to count as a performance.
Luckily, there were two exceptions. Mark (Jordan Fisher) and Mimi (Tinashe) both pulled off rather impressive performances considering the situation. Songs like “La Vie Boheme” and “Out Tonight” offered a teaser of what Rent usually is. They brought the energy and talent the stage so desperately needed.
If the performance actually went according to plan, I have no doubt it would have been much more impressive, but what was aired was a small-scale catastrophe. Honestly, it would have been better not to air it at all.
"Rent" is a strong, emotional and energetic musical that needs the full attention of a dedicated cast to pull it off. "Rent: Live" unfortunately didn’t get that opportunity. We will likely never know how good it could have been, but hopefully Fox at least learned a lesson about understudies.