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What To Watch If The Underwhelming "Rent: Live" Left You Wanting More

A last minute injury thwarted Fox’s televised production of Rent: Live this past Sunday night that prevented viewers from seeing a fully live broadcast. As the cast was reaching the end of their dress rehearsal performance on Saturday night, lead actor Brennin Hunt (Roger Davis) broke his foot and was unable to perform live in the musical’s numerous action-packed numbers. With no understudies to fill in for the role, producers made the understandably difficult decision to air taped footage of the rehearsal for almost the entirety of the show, save for the final number where viewers could clearly see the cast on a seated Hunt’s injured foot.

But even that brief live scene at the end was enough to give audiences a taste of how much more spirited a completely live performance with this cast could have been. While Hunt, Jordan Fisher (Mark Cohen), Tinashe (Mimi Marquez), Brandon Victor Dixon (Tom Collins), Valentina (Angel Dumott Schunard), Vanessa Hudgens (Maureen Johnson), Kiersey Clemons (Joanne Jefferson), and Mario (Benjamin Coffin III) each brought their own interpretations of the classic characters, a general feeling of dissatisfaction remained that could only be remedied by the appearance of the original Broadway cast at the end to briefly perform the iconic show-stopping number, “Seasons Of Love”.

For those whose viewing of Rent: Live served as an introduction to the story of a close-knit artistic friend group living through the AIDS epidemic in New York City during the late 1980s and are curious for more, checking out the movie is the most obvious place to start. The Rent film is an energetic and moving tribute to the stage version, although it does significantly alter the timeline of events and leave out a few songs. Still, this version is a must-watch. It stars original Broadway cast members Anthony Rapp (Mark), Adam Pascal (Roger), Jesse L. Martin (Collins), Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Angel), Idina Menzel (Maureen), and Taye Diggs (Benny) as well as Rosario Dawson (Mimi) and Tracie Thoms (Joanne). The 2005 film version of Rent can currently be streamed on Hulu.

Of course, the original Broadway edition of Rent is the one that truly started it all and therefore should also be looked into. The 1996 musical quickly moved from Off-Broadway into a national spotlight and ran on Broadway for twelve years. Featuring the actors mentioned above and additionally starring Daphne Rubin-Vega (Mimi) and Fredi Walker (Joanne), this production brings a raw grit and deep emotionality to the story that other versions have never quite been able to emulate. To put the full extent of Rent’s impact not only on theater but on pop culture as a whole into context, think of it as the Hamilton of the '90s.

The original Broadway edition is also the most celebrated production. Composer and writer Jonathan Larson posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Rent and won four Tony Awards the year it premiered. The full soundtrack featuring the original Broadway performances can be streamed on Spotify. You can also watch shortened renditions of “Seasons Of Love” and “La Vie Boheme” from the cast’s Tony Awards performance in 1996.

As Rent’s run on Broadway came to a close in 2008, the final performance was filmed for a special that offers viewers the full extent of a stage production of this show. Rent: Live On Broadway is the closest fans will come to seeing the musical in person without physically going to a theater. Although, one can always hope that the show will make a triumphant return sometime in the near future. In the meantime, this version is more than satisfactory enough to hold even the most critical of fans over until that happens. The cast includes Adam Kantor (Mark), Will Chase (Roger), Renée Elise Goldberry (Mimi), Michael McElroy (Collins), Justin Johnston (Angel), Eden Espinosa (Maureen), Rodney Hicks (Benny), and Tracie Thoms reprising the role of Joanne. Rent: Live On Broadway can be viewed on Amazon.

But for a die-hard fan who is yearning to see their favorite show live, or for someone who would rather witness the stirring musical in person than through a screen, look no further than New Brunswick’s own local theater. The State Theater New Jersey, which is located just off of George Street, will be hosting the anniversary tour of Rent for three nights from April 2nd to April 4th. The national tour began back in 2016 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the celebrated musical, and tickets can be bought in advance on the State Theater website.

Rent cannot be discussed without paying tribute to the musical’s creator, Jonathan Larson. As mentioned at the end of Sunday night’s broadcast, Larson tragically passed away the morning Rent was set to premiere Off-Broadway and was never able to see the immeasurable impact his inspirational work had on those who witnessed it over the years. The documentary No Day But Today: The Story Of Rent examines Larson’s life leading up to the creation of Rent and delves into the behind the scenes process of putting together a musical. This moving tribute to Larson is only available to watch as a bonus feature on the special edition release of the Rent film, but is well worth the search.

With each adaptation of Rent that have come to fruition in the 23 years since the original Off-Broadway production first premiered, the undeniable fact remains that creator Jonathan Larson’s emotional and timelessly powerful lyrics leave a lasting impact with every single viewing.