Today for You, Yesterday for Us.
by Mo Brady
What happens when the show doesn’t go on? In the promos for Rent: Live on Fox, audiences were told: “The pressure is on. The hit musical Rent is live and anything can happen.” Well, something did happen. The production’s Roger, Brennin Hunt, was injured during a dress rehearsal the evening before, breaking his ankle during the last half hour of the final run-through.
Television audiences didn’t find that out until the telecast had already begun. At the first commercial break, a filmed message announcing Hunt’s injury was shared. Instead of watching a live performance on Sunday evening, the production would share the previous evening’s run-through, promising a portion of the finale would be live later in the evening.
Rent: Live was not to be performed live.
NBC’s live musicals typically have had understudies. For Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, Broadway leading man Justin Matthew Sargent stood by for John Legend. But this seems to be either a choice that the production did not make or a contingency plan that they did not chose to employ.
Why was this choice made not to show the production live tonight? Even performed as a concert, a live evening would give television audiences the exciting “anything can happen” show they were promised.
Audiences love technical difficulty. We love to see actors come together against all odds to make theatrical magic. That theatrical magic is what these live television musicals have been trying to capture since The Sound of Music Live! reinvigorated the tradition in 2013. Theatre audiences famously rallied around the first preview of Groundhog Day when the a technical problem caused the show to be performed as a concert. It bought the house down and became the stuff of theatre legend.
According to social media, a similar performance took place on the 21st Century Fox lot on Sunday evening. The studio audience was treated to a semi-staged concert of the show, with the cast and crew rallying around Hunt in a wheelchair. A similar choice could have made Rent: Live a must-watch event.
There any many things to like about Fox’s production of Rent. Jordan Fisher gives another grounded and authentic performance as Mark Cohen, after performing in Grease: Live three years ago. Vanessa Hudgens brings confidence fantastic vocals to the role of Maureen Johnson. Unfortunately for both the production and audiences, a live performance isn’t one of them.