RENT

Rent Live: A Positive Influence, or more like Rent Dead?

“Original Broadway cast, 1996”  by JessnKat is licensed under  CC BY-SA 4.0

Taylor Lockhart

So recently, like last Sunday, you might have tuned in for FOX’s latest live musical, Rent. I thought, as we seem to get more of these year after year I’d use Rent to see whether the live show hurts or helps it’s source material. Are they faithful adaptations and are you truly getting the idea of what Rent is from seeing this production? I’ll be talking specifically about Rent Live and live shows rather than Rent’s story, themes or the story of Jonathan Larson because believe that deserves it’s own article that I will get to eventually...maybe like Christmas Eve 2020 eventually.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m a Rent-head. There are a lot of people who love and cherish this musical more than I do, though on the flipside this wasn’t my first time seeing the musical either. I make it a tradition to watch the professional recording from Sony’s short lived “Hot Ticket” program every Christmas Eve. So, I do have a standard that the live show should live up to and well, it absolutely did. I’ve seen a lot of people trashing on Rent Live and honestly I just can’t understand why. The set was stunning, a very interesting twist on theatre in the round where sometimes the performers were in front of you and behind you. I admit it would've probably been awful to see such a show in person, but when you have the ability to manipulate perspectives with camera angles for people watching at home it just makes so much more sense than simply recording a production on a proscenium stage. Beyond that Rent Live absolutely feels like Rent, perhaps even more than previous productions have. Rent has always consisted of abstract depictions of New York City and some of the places in it with large amounts of twisting metal making up the scenery, and this New York was much less abstract making it clearer where we were at times and moving from place to place with much clearer distinctions between places like the support center, and Roger and Mark’s apartment. It’s really up to you whether you like this or not. I personally think it’s great and while it doesn’t leave so much up to the imagination like other productions have every part of it still carries the worn down and grunge aesthetic that is integral to Rent’s overall story and something it has become well known for over the years. It’s just massive and there’s so much I’m sure I’m missing that sticks out but its little stuff like American flag graffiti in the background that just shows how much love and respect was put into the look of this show.

Oh and good lord, let’s settle on the set and talk about lighting. Rent is well lit, sometimes it’s blinding. In the beginning of the show after the “power goes out”, Rent comes to life and has a light show compared to a rock concert, and that’s really what Rent is. A rock concert and a musical mixed together. Not only is there literally millions of lights, but they really help convey the mood and are perfectly done. I didn’t feel the lights were ever distracting and helped build a balance between the serious and less serious parts of the show.


As for the actors themselves, superb. Even if in some cases they weren't, these felt like people FOX brought in to sell the show with their talent rather than their name. I loved this depiction of Roger and Mark, god I loved this Mark. Jordan Fisher absolutely killed it bringing a huge amount of humanity and really serious moments that I haven’t seen with other Marks. I thought this cast was stellar and they absolutely did the work to understand and accurately portray the characters they were playing. Vanessa Hudgens is more than just the girl you know from High School Musical, she is undeniably Maureen and absolutely rocked it. Mimi was incredible, Angel was great, Collins was great. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt that anyone that was on stage shouldn’t be there and I can’t say I’ve had the same opinion in other live shows.


Rent was fun, it was emotional, and it left me wanting to sing “Seasons Of Love”, “What You Own” and some of its other stand out songs. It left me with the same feeling I remember having when I first saw Rent a few years ago. People have all sorts of opinions about this show and even more so about this Live version. USA Today is saying, “it’s more season of lousy than of love” The Washington Post is criticizing it for, “not truly being live” and well, I just don’t think Rent Live deserves all the criticism it gets. Maybe, it’s because I’m not a Rent-head and I didn’t notice all the changes made at first. I’ll be honest the change in the opening line flowed smoothly so I never noticed it was different and maybe, I don’t have such high expectations for theatre as other people do but I can say in my own opinion, I loved Rent Live. It felt like everything I wanted a Rent adaptation to be and even more I didn’t ask for but got anyways, and I think it absolutely makes an argument for live adaptations just like it. Hell, if FOX decided to do one of my favorite musicals like The Producers Live or Big Fish Live next, I wouldn’t fret because I feel if these musicals are treated like Rent Live has, then we’re for some exciting and very faithful adaptations. I would encourage you if you get the chance to experience Rent Live for yourself and form your own opinion of whether it’s a good Rent production or not.

So what do you think, should NBC, ABC, and FOX continue to do Live shows, and what’s next for the cable giants? Personally, I think Music Man: Live, Guys and Dolls: Live, A Chorus Line: Live, Pippin: Live, and West Side Story: Live are all probably shows we’ll see in the future. Oh, NBC is doing Hair. Well, nevermind then, it might be awhile before another exciting live show comes along. Maybe see a different show live... in person while you wait. I hear Be More Chill and Jagged Little Pill are both coming to broadway.


I’ve been Taylor and you’ve been you, thanks for reading and let me know your opinion on Rent Live and what Live shows you would want to see in the future. I publish just about every month so check back in for February to see what I’ve got cooking for then and as always have a great rest of the month. Wait it’s January 31st. So, have a great day then.


RENT: An Imperfectly Perfect Musical

Jonathan Fong
It introduced thousands to Broadway. Every night it played at the Nederlander Theatre, it touched the souls of hundreds. It did so with one simple message – no day but today.

I am, of course, talking about the rock musical sensation of Rent. Born of Jonathan Larson’s creative ministrations and orphaned just before its first preview by Larson’s unfortunate passing, the musical about a band of young bohemians trying to navigate life riddled with death, bills and AIDS is loved by millions, and for good reason. For its brash, coarse yet utterly real content matter – not many musicals unabashedly yell odes to “mucho masturbation” in their Act 1 finales – it truly touches the heart too. The harsh electric guitar and frenetic energy of “Out Tonight” is tempered by the soft guitar melody and haunting repetition of “Will I”, inspired by one of Larson’s own visits to an AIDS support group, while the lighthearted romance of “I’ll Cover You” is turned on their head by its reprise in the second act. Not to mention, of course, the joyous, life-affirming finale with everyone belting their hearts out to affirm the show’s message and show that all does, indeed, work out in the end and that there truly is no day but today. And that is truly among the show’s biggest flaws.



Thing is, Rent is just too perfect. Everything, all the dramatic tension, the underlying question of “will I lose my dignity” and the ever-present fear of death within all the scenes, is thrown away quite simply on a whim in those last few moments; a true deus ex machina, if I’ve ever seen one. Angel’s death leaves a grim, stark impression on the cowed audience; that one of the most beloved, kindest and most selfless of people the audience sees in the show can so easily be taken away is one of the most grim reminders of the true dangers of AIDS back then, in a time when the epidemic was so widespread and few knew what to truly do to contain it. In light of that, Mimi’s sudden, seemingly magical (or rather, illogical) revival and second wind comes across as a scoff in the face, a ‘whatever’ moment. It makes for a heartwarming ending to the show, sure, but it doesn’t make the touching, heart-wrenching one we as the audience have been led to expect from the show. Not to mention how some parts of the show simply don’t quite make sense – dogs do generally know not to jump off buildings, even when in extreme auditory discomfort from a street drummer’s fierce drumming – while others do feel a tad awkward (“Your Eyes” isn’t the most touching goodbye song, not in the same way “One Song Glory” or “I’ll Cover You Reprise” are heartbreaking ballads setting near-impossible standards to match, at least).

And yet, does that change the perfection of the show one bit? Does it make the tears of joy as Mimi and Roger embrace any less heartfelt or the joyful reunion of the cast – plus Angel – at the end to belt out the final lyric “no day but today” any less beautiful? Does it mean that “One Song Glory” suddenly loses its meaning, ceases to remind one of our inner fears, of death and failure and of making a mark? Does it make the show as a whole any less poignant and coarse and utterly real? The answer, in my opinion, is no.

Sure, Rent’s ending leaves something to be desired. Sure, there are a couple of songs – particularly in the second act – which fall a little flat, perhaps somewhat explainable by the fact that they simply couldn’t be revised or replaced by their original composer between the show’s initial Off-Broadway debut and its inevitable record-breaking run on Broadway. Sure, the show as a whole could have been made more watertight had Larson had more time to work on it or simply written it with another ending in mind (he was, after all, insistent on Mimi living in the end, though who knows if time and additional previews/performances might’ve changed his mind). But nothing changes the fact that the story and message of the show are just so incredibly necessary in a way that one cannot comprehend unless they’ve seen or heard it and so perfect in that they, even in spite of being imperfect and flawed, make you feel a whole rollercoaster of emotions and then some in a mere two and a half hours of runtime (plus the obligatory 10-minute intermission). If you were to ask me to choose between a technically perfect yet bland show and the raw, imperfect truth of Rent – made ever more poignant by the fact that its composer and writer lived, breathed, and died in the same world as the musical he wrote was set in – I’d choose Rent any day as an example of what a truly perfect musical should be. For it, unlike any other show, truly reminds one that there is no day but today.