Why ‘Rent: Live’ Was The Best Thing That Didn’t Happen

Fox debuted its highly anticipated the live adaptation of Rent the musical last weekend, but seemingly nothing went as planned.

During last Saturday’s final dress rehearsal, Brennin Hunt, a lead actor playing Roger, broke his foot while backstage. Due to a lack of preparation and no understudies, Fox network executives decided to air the final dress rehearsal instead of putting on a final show. This was immediately met with a huge backlash from viewers and fans alike, disappointed that they were not seeing the final, live product that they were promised, but just a rehearsal instead. Audiences were left thinking about ‘what might have been,’ instead of thinking about what they had just watched. What could have happened if the show had gone as planned?

Rent follows a group of 20-somethings in 1990’s New York City, living out the end of the millennium while being directly effected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A ‘rock musical,’ Rent introduced musical theatre to a new generation and forever changed the limitations of what theatre could be- thanks to its groundbreaking rock score and multidimensional characters, some of who are living with HIV. Rent’s creator, Jonathan Larson, died the night before the 1996 Off-Broadway opening of the musical, and never got to see the legacy of his work.

This musical, even though not necessarily as family friendly as its live musical broadcast counterparts Grease or The Sound of Music, was met with excitement- as it pushes boundaries and represents topics such as HIV and homosexuality. Rent is treasured by many, and fans were excited to see it branch into mainstream media and television with stars such as Vanessa Hudgens and Mario. However, its ratings were reported as the lowest ever for a live televised musical. So what went wrong?

It can only be assumed that major problems sprung from the fact that they were airing a rehearsal. One problem was that actors were probably not expecting this rehearsal to be aired at all, and could have been saving their voices or their movements in preparation for Sunday’s show.

Another contributing factor could be the media stream glitches that many East Coast viewers experienced early on, ironically most of them in NYC, where the show is set. Live stream was temporarily unavailable, and many viewers missed out on the opening of the show.

However, Rent was not without its redeeming moments.

Brandon Victor Dixon’s rendition of the song “I’ll Cover You (reprise)” was a clear standout number. No stranger to TV musicals, Dixon was last seen as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar which earned stellar reviews, so it is no surprise that Dixon would exceed expectations in Rent and deliver a heart wrenching, tear jerking performance.


Fans also were impressed by Vanessa Hudgen’s “Maureen,” recognizing that she has clearly moved on from her High School Musical days and is becoming a force to be reckoned with.


So, to recap, the show didn’t *really* go on last Sunday, but it definitely broke boundaries and changed the perception of what TV musicals can be- even if it wasn’t exactly as expected (but isn’t that the magic of live theatre anyway?)

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