Fox’s ‘RENT: Live’ aired with plenty of surprises

January 31, 2019 – Carla Delgado—Fox’s highly-anticipated television special, “Rent: Live” finally aired this week. After all the teasers they’ve released, it’s finally here! And by “here” we mean anywhere but the Philippines.

“Rent” is the 1996 Tony Award-winning musical about a group of struggling artists trying to make it and survive in Downtown New York. It tackled many socio-political subjects including HIV and AIDS, which helped in furthering the discussion on sexually-transmitted diseases. It continues to be an important topic because, until now, there is still a stigma against those who test positive for it. It is also a striking protest against poverty, homophobia, and transphobia, issues that are very much prevalent now as they were before.

For us Filipino fans who couldn’t watch FOX’s broadcast, we had to resort to watching clips that Fox released and stalking the #RENTLive hashtag on Twitter. Still, this didn’t hinder us from enjoying the performance. Aside from having profanities and sexual references edited out from the broadcast version, there were other surprises from the show as well. Here are five snippets from the show that caught our attention:

The pre-taped dress rehearsal

Much to viewers’ annoyance, "Rent: Live" was only partially live as Fox decided to broadcast the recorded dress rehearsal instead. This is due to the fact that Brennin Hunt, who plays Roger, broke his foot during their dress rehearsal. The set and choreography were adjusted for the actual show so that Hunt can still perform while he was in a wheelchair. Like they say, the show must go on.

The glaring question is: Why didn’t Fox cast an understudy for him? Some fans were also hoping that they showed the live production because they felt that the taped rehearsal was underwhelming compared to the actual performance. The cast wasn’t seen at their strongest because Fox aired something we all weren’t even meant to see. It was truly a surprise that “Rent: Live” only turned out to be live-ish, with only the last 15 minutes being truly live.

Valentina’s performance as Angel

Fans were initially excited and perhaps even looking forward to seeing Valentina as Angel in the live production. Valentina is best known for being on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for Season 9 and All-Stars 4. She can dance and act, and visually, she looks so fit for the part. However, audiences commented that her vocals aren’t as on point like the rest of the cast. There were people who commended her singing, but there were also those incredibly confused about how she was cast for a musical. Some swear that she was lip-syncing during “Contact,” but we can’t confirm for sure. Still, we can’t deny that she did a good job for such an iconic role.

The appearance of the original Broadway cast

“Rent: Live” chose to do “Seasons of Love” a little differently from what we are used to. They didn’t do what fans usually call “the Rent line” wherein the actors stand in a line with individual spotlights on them during that specific song. Viewers were very disapproving for it, but when it came to the last performance, everybody was blown away because the original Broadway cast (OBC) appeared onstage. It was very surreal to see the OBC of “Rent” performing “Seasons of Love” with their counterparts from the TV cast, especially when they interacted with each other with hugs, holding hands, and knowing smiles. "Rent: Live" ended strong because that performance was nothing short of amazing!

Vanessa is definitely made for theater

Having snagged the role of Maureen Johnson, she had big shoes to fill as it was previously played by Idina Menzel in the original Broadway cast and the movie adaptation. Vanessa Hudgens is no stranger to theater. She was part of the live production of "Grease" and she made her Broadway debut playing the titular role in Gigi. With her stunning performance, she exceeded expectations and fans dubbed her to be the best part of "Rent: Live." She's definitely made for theater, being the triple threat that she is. For those who grew up seeing her as Gabriella from "High School Musical," it's kind of awesome to see her completely become the bisexual performance artist that the role begs. You wouldn't be able to take your eyes off of her especially during "Take Me or Leave Me," which is one of the most iconic songs from the musical.

The recognition for Jonathan Larson

“Rent” was the product of Jonathan Larson’s brilliance. He made its music, lyrics, and book. Sadly, he died on the night before its Off-Broadway premiere and never got to see the show’s success. The fact that “Rent: Live” actually took a moment to remember him and acknowledge the legacy that he left behind is wonderful.

The musical was unprecedented in terms of its type of music and the topics it tackled. It made such an impact over the years, more impact that he probably might have imagined when he was making it. This television special came at the right time, educating a younger audience about the crisis of HIV and AIDS.

“Rent: Live” shows us that even 23 years after the musical first opened on Broadway, it still speaks volumes about important struggles, and that resonates until today. It is not only an iconic musical but a relatable one at that. It shows that other people can feel alone too despite being surrounded by people, that fear and uncertainty about the future isn’t uncommon at all. Although the live production did not come without hitches, it was still an overall performance that deserves kudos. 

Photo courtesy of Fox