Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Reel Snippet – Rent: Live

No day but today.

Summary: December 24th, 9 P.M., 1991… two broke friends and roommates, Roger (Brennin Hunt) and Mark (Jordan Fisher) are given an ultimatum by their landlord and former friend Benny (Mario) — either pay their overdue rent or force Mark’s ex, Maureen (Vanessa Hudgens), to cancel her protest of his building development. Their friend Collins (Brandon Victor Dixon), on his way to meet them, comes across a street performer named Angel (Valentina) and the two spark a romance, just as Roger meets a junkie named Mimi (Tinashe) who starts to mend his broken heart. But apart from struggling with debt, all four lovers have AIDS and must figure out how to make the most of the time they have left. Add to this some of Maureen’s bad relationship habits that her girlfriend, Joanne (Kiersey Clemons), bonds with Mark over and you get one tangled and dysfunctional group finding connection in a time where emotional detachment can be preferable to watching your friends slowly die.

Review: Rent: Live is a bit of a false title because, due to Brennin Hunt getting injured a day before the live performance, most of the performance was using prerecorded footage from the dress rehearsal. While the decision not to have a fully prepared understudy who could jump in at the last minute was colossally boneheaded, I was impressed by what they pulled off in the end… mostly. The dress rehearsal footage was probably the reason that, in so many places, the audio levels felt unbalanced and some of the actors maybe didn’t give it their all. I heard Angel’s voice crack during quite a few high notes and that just should not happen.

However, dress rehearsal or not, the stand-out performance is Vanessa Hudgens, who captures Maureen’s eccentricities and attitude to a tee. On top of that, her acting and singing is A+ material. After suffering through all three High School Musical movies, it’s gratifying to see her come into her own and knock this role completely out of the park. Just don’t ask me if she’s better than Idina Menzel (Maureen’s original actor) because that’s a minefield I’m not ready to brave yet.

Something of note is that there were multiple changes to the original script for the broadcast. A number of them for the purpose of making the production PG-13 for cable standards, but there were others meant to streamline certain points (like combining the roles of the Life Support meeting leader and the soloist of Seasons of Love into one role played by Keala Settle). A lot of people took issue with the changes, probably because changing one line of Jonathan Larson’s posthumous masterpiece is blasphemy punishable by fire in the eyes of the theater community. For me, my main issue is that the changes were very inconsistent — they couldn’t or wouldn’t say “piss,” but “pissed” got through just fine or changing the word “slave” but not censoring the string of LGBT slurs (of course, the slurs were said by LGBT characters, so you could argue that it was a statement of empowerment). I honestly can’t decide if it’s more or less cautious than a high school version would be, but I still scratched my head over the changes.

The best thing about this “live” production was the stage… and that’s not faint praise. The staging, which has the audience surround a large platform in the middle that in turn extends out and makes use of the walls and platforms around the audience, is one of the most novel layouts I’ve seen used in theater. It allows for much more dynamic blocking and staging and makes for an incredibly immersive experience. The downside is that people treated it like an arena rock show and were cheering and reaching for the actors, but it’s still something I’d like to see theater productions explore in the future.

When all is said and done, I came away happy from this. In fact, I came away appreciating how relevant it’s become lately — maybe not about AIDS specifically, but about how challenging it is to be part of a marginalized or stigmatized demographic, being in crushing debt in a society where it’s getting harder and harder to afford rent (at least in the Silicon Valley), and getting one’s soul crushed by the obscene amounts of death and hardship in the US. On top of that, the fact that this aired on Fox, one of the most conservative networks out there, makes this a very important broadcast. Plus it was pretty magical seeing the original cast come on at the end to perform with everyone. I know a lot of people came away not liking it, but for me, Rent is too hard to screw up and this was certainly a treat.

Fun Tidbit: During the Christmas Bells song while Angel and Collins are looking for coats, one of the ones they reject is the maroon and blue sweater Mark wears in most productions of Rent.

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