January 27. The date for the live television musical event Rent on Fox arrived; but hours before airtime, Fox announced that actor Brennin Hunt suffered an injury during the January 26 dress rehearsal but “everyone – producers and cast, original and current -- is dedicated to ensuring that tonight’s broadcast must, and will, go on.” It wasn’t until the first commercial break that nationwide audiences were told (in a special filmed announcement from the cast) that Hunt had broken his foot and the musical we were watching was previously recorded during the January 26 rehearsal, but the full cast would unite for a re-staged finale.
But the fact that Rent wasn’t 100 percent live is really beside the point. When Craig Zadan and Neil Meron conceived the first live television musical event, much of the intent behind the “live” element was to recreate the in-the-moment magic that occurs during a Broadway performance and showcase it via the reach of television. The idea of the “single take”—that nothing was pre-recorded and that the cast performed the full show from start to finish without second chances—was the motivating factor behind the format. That still held true for Rent. And during the broadcast of the Jonathan Larson musical, director Michael Greif and television director Alex Rudzinski, gave audiences a lot to cheer for.
Here are eight highlights of the much-anticipated Rent on Fox. (There will be spoilers.)
1. The Opening Quote
Before the recitation of the first line, before the official downbeat, Rent on Fox reminded us of the ethos of the Jonathan Larson musical with a quote from the writer himself.
“In these dangerous times where the world is ripping apart at the seams
We can learn from those who stare death in the face every day
By reaching out to each other and bonding as a community,
Rather than hiding from the terrors of life”
In a moment of artistry, the words faded away to leave R-E-N-T, animated to converge into the musical’s title; a reminder that Rent is, at its core, about coming together—especially in times of crisis.
2. The Cast
Rent on Fox pulled its principal players from all avenues of arts and entertainment—not just theatre talent. (Jordan Fisher, Brandon Victor Dixon, and Vanessa Hudgens—who slayed “Over the Moon”— all have Broadway résumés.) But up-and-coming singer-songwriter Brennin Hunt as Roger and Grammy-nominated R&B artist Mario as Benny each gave inspired performances. Vocally, the two nailed their rock and soul vibes, respectively, paying homage to original cast members Adam Pascal and Taye Diggs while imbuing their own freshness. Tinashe also proved herself a triple threat—oozing sensuality in her choreography for “Out Tonight,” inserting nuance in the smaller moments, and hitting all the right notes. The chemistry between her and Hunt elevated the full story line. And even in a giant cast, Hunt stayed completely in character for that final scene and wailed on “Your Eyes.”
3. The Arrangements
Courtesy of music magician (officially music director and producer) Stephen Oremus, Rent featured updated orchestrations. The new sound soared, especially in the rumba beat intro to “Today 4 U.”
4. The Cinematography on “Will I?”
Similar to Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, Rent was staged on a single soundstage. The cameras moved between different settings (Mark and Roger’s apartment, Life Support meetings) but as the cast sang “Will I?” Rudzinksi’s cinematography whirled around the set and created an aura of New York City.
5. Choreography in “La Vie Bohème”
Choreographer Sonya Tayeh hired a crew of serious dancers for Rent’s ensemble. Though we only caught flashes of them in “Tango: Maureen,” her choreography was on full glorious display in “La Vie Bohème.” From the snaking in the opening moments, to the overhead shot of Fisher backsliding, to the use of the turntable, the power, athleticism, and exactitude of her choreography pulsed through the anthem.
6. The Costumes
Original Broadway costume designer Angela Wendt undertook the gargantuan task of designing the wardrobe to nod to her original iconic looks for each individual character, without presenting a copy or diverting too far from Rent’s roots. Wendt aced the challenge, injecting saturation of color ideal for television. But she also created new fashion ideals. Sincerely, where can we get Maureen’s wardrobe?
7. “Contact” and Angel’s Funeral
Brandon Victor Dixon. From the moment he cracked “it’s over” at the end of “Contact” (another shoutout to Tayeh) through the end of Angel’s funeral with the “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” Dixon had America in tears. When he finally unleashed in his upper register—joined by Keala Settle belting her face off—the moment escalated. The full sequence from “Contact” through each of the tributes to Angel until the commercial break was the most emotional of the evening.
8. The Original Cast Returns!
Knowing the original cast of Rent would be part of the broadcast made it no less special when the white projection sheet lifted to reveal Anthony Rapp, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Fredi Walker-Browne, Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Adam Pascal. Watching the current cast meet up with their original counterparts solidified that Rent’s story has become a legacy, and will continue to be for generations to come.