‘Rent Live’ Review: How Do You Measure a Show You Were Never Meant to See? | Modern Society of USA

‘Rent Live’ Review: How Do You Measure a Show You Were Never Meant to See?

‘Rent Live’ Review: How Do You Measure a Show You Were Never Meant to See?

A longstanding superstition holds that saying the title of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” while inside a theater — unless you are rehearsing or performing the play itself — will bring about a terrible curse.

The notion is based on an unfounded legend, but it makes you wonder what people were saying in the studio where “Rent: Live” was rehearsing the past few weeks. On Sunday, not long before the 8 p.m. curtain for the musical’s live broadcast on Fox, the network announced that Brennin Hunt, the actor playing Roger, seriously injured his foot while performing during the previous day’s dress rehearsal. Unlike on Broadway (and in most professional theater productions), the show did not have understudies for its leads.

The solution? Much of what viewers would see would be Saturday’s recorded performance, the cast noted in a statement during an early commercial break. The final 15 minutes or so were live; Hunt was at a table, his foot in a cast and propped on a chair. (Hashtags like #RentNotLive and #RentKindaLive trended during the broadcast.)

[See photos from the original production of “Rent.”]

Few moments from “Rent: Live” evoked what made the show so special. The sound mixing was rough — characters’ voices were sometimes too soft, too loud or just too muddled to comprehend. It didn’t help that the overzealous crowd, perhaps primed from years of “American Idol” and the like, chimed in to “woo” and cheer whenever an actor belted a long note — which, if you aren’t familiar with “Rent,” occurs a lot. In the case of “Today 4 U,” a musical showcase for the larger-than-life optimist Angel (Valentina, a star of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”), the audience was so hyped it drowned out much of her vocals.

Also too muddled to comprehend: the frantic, overwrought camerawork. “Rent: Live” was directed by Michael Greif, who oversaw the original Broadway production, and Alex Rudzinski, but they both seemed to be channeling Baz Luhrmann. The cameras swooped around the sprawling stage erratically, without any ostensible purpose other than to distinguish this from feeling like a theater production. During “Will I?,” a simple melody sung by the chorus in a round, the focus shifted dizzily from one character to another, effectively dulling the moment’s emotional resonance.

As with network TV’s other recent live musicals, the cast was a mix of stage and screen performers, along with a couple of pop stars. The results were all over the place: The R&B singers Tinashe and Mario, playing Mimi and Benny, did fine, but they weren’t standouts. Jordan Fisher’s Mark was lithe and fun to watch while dancing, particularly during “La Vie Boheme.”

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