FOX aired their production of the acclaimed rock musical “Rent: Live” on Jan. 27.
“Rent” first opened on Broadway in 1996 with lyrics, music and a book by Jonathon Larson. It was adapted for film in 2005. The story centers on New Yorkers during the height of the AIDS crisis that are struggling with topics from sex and drugs to financial stability and making it as an artist.
The musical’s unabashed lyrics and rock ‘n roll score tell a story of acceptance, love and the importance of surrounding yourself with strong individuals you can call family. It’s a show that has shaped two generations, and Sunday’s performance was meant to be it’s third large-scale introduction to U.S. audiences, old and new.
FOX’s initial announcement of the production, featuring stars such as Jordan Fisher as Mark Cohen and Vanessa Hudgens as Maureen Johnson, was met with unease. Expectations weren’t high thanks to the restrictions network television was bound to place on a show none would deem “family-friendly” in the first place.
When news hit Sunday that much of what viewers would see would be pre-recorded, the conversation surrounding the performance turned from bad to worse. What was meant to be a live broadcast was only partially aired in real time due to an actor’s injury. Brennin Hunt, who was set to play the principal role of Roger Davis, suffered an ankle injury that caused the network to use film from the production’s final dress rehearsal until the final scene.
The negative buzz that surrounded “Rent: Live” being not so live was nothing against the cast or crew, but rather a testament to a longstanding superstition among the theater community: bad dress, great opening.
For those who aren’t well versed in the arts, this means that a poor performance for your final dress rehearsal will mean your opening night will be successful. The logic behind the statement rests on the notion that if everything that can go wrong the night before does, then when you are faced with your first audience those mistakes will be fresh and the cast will ensure that lightning doesn’t strike twice.
The members of “Rent: Live” were forced to adapt in ways they certainly weren’t prepared for, hence why all theater artists stress the importance of understudies. With no one to step in for the role of wheelchair bound Hunt, viewers were treated to a first-hand look at what a dress rehearsal is, which is often not the same level of quality as a scheduled performance. Viewers were already suspecting this rendition of the beloved musical would disappoint and this unfortunate circumstance seemed to solidify that the show was set to be a disaster.
Yet, despite the hiccups the performance experienced, the heart of “Rent” was a beacon that shined a light on Sunday. The importance of the musical’s message was still clear through the fog of an overbearingly loud crowd, actors who weren’t performing at opening level, and censorship that had to swap words like “dildo” and “piss” for milder concepts.
Looking beyond any reviews or the hardships “Rent: Live” faced, a new generation has now been introduced to this piece of art that’s dedicated to blaring a message of love as loud as their electric guitars will allow.
No longer are Rentheads (the name the fan base is often given) alone in belting lyrics like “no day but today” and “viva La Vie Bohème.” Thousands have just been introduced to an ensemble cast of misfits who stand for staying true to yourself no matter what hand you’re dealt. They’ve watched characters face disease with a smile on their face and tell the world that, whether anyone likes it or not, they will never stop pursuing their dreams and being exactly who they are.
“Rent” doesn’t just say everything we have been taught we shouldn’t, it shouts it from the rooftops of its grungy New York City set and displays it in beautiful and shocking displays of some of the harshest realities of life.
This story is important, even if the performance itself doesn’t quite hit the mark. “Rent: Live” may not have gone as planned, but at the end of the day, “there is no future, there is no past, live this moment as [your] last.”