There is a reason that Broadway has understudies, and Rent Live is the perfect example as to why. During the dress rehearsal, Brennin Hunt (who was the production’s Roger Davis) broke his foot. And because there was no understudy in place, the big “live” show wasn’t exactly live.
The dress rehearsal the night before was taped in case something happened necessitating a cut to that footage—and something happened. So for the majority of the “live” show, we got to see what was taped the night before and then, for “Your Eyes” and the finale, we had a live production which was, arguably, better than the pre-recorded show we had throughout the majority of Rent. The call to go to tape was likely made because Roger, one of the male leads, is involved in a lot of physicality and dancing and because of Hunt’s injury, this just wasn’t possible.
Look, I enjoyed Rent Live. I think that Jordan Fisher was a perfect Mark and brought a life to the character we hadn’t seen before, and Hunt was extremely attractive as Roger (a must for the brooding “rock star” character). But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have complaints. Rent has a long, complicated history with fans of the musical because we have a movie that isn’t great, countless recorded productions, and we all have our favorite cast.
But as fans, we’re not above making fun of the show. A not-hot take out of last night was that “Your Eyes” is still a terrible song. Roger, who spends his entire year working on a song that isn’t even as great as his song about trying to write a great song, sings to Mimi as she’s … dying … in his arms.
mimi: *hypothermic, in drug withdrawal, inches from death*
roger: anyway, here’s wonderwall #RentLive
— emma lord (@dilemmalord) January 28, 2019
“Lemme play you this song I wrote real quick before you die of AIDS” is the white dudest thing of all white dude things that ever white duded #rentlive
— Justin “Hoops” McElroy (@JustinMcElroy) January 28, 2019
If my boo tries to play a guitar on my death bed, KILL ME. Pull the plug and then beat him with said guitar. #RENTLive
— Natasha Rothwell (@natasharothwell) January 28, 2019
Rent is a show about community, love, and overcoming obstacles that life throws at us all. Angel, Collins, Mark, Roger, Maureen, Joanne, and Mimi all made their own family, came together despite disease and addiction and were there for one another when they had no one else. The musical’s overarching message of love and togetherness is eternal.
Sure, we now, as adults, think that Benny was maybe right and not the villain because all he wanted was his friends to help pay for the building they were living in but that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten the message of Rent.
I do hope that Hunt’s unfortunate injury demonstrated why these live TV productions should have understudies just like any other show. Understudies are the life’s blood of live theater—without them, countless shows would have to be canceled, and many an actor may not have had the opportunity to prove themselves onstage.
It’s mind-boggling that after so much money devoted to this production that the leads did not have understudies who could step in. Injury, sickness, and vocal issues are commonplace and the whole point of these TV musicals is to show them live. It’s smart to tape the dress rehearsal as backup in case of a broadcast issue where they could cut to tape, but a dress rehearsal is still a dress rehearsal and the energy level is always going to be different than the “real” thing.
Always, always have an understudy. pic.twitter.com/lRA1C7I45P
— 2019 will be bedder (@itgetsbedder) January 28, 2019
Why… did Roger not have an understudy? I don’t want to watch a dress rehearsal
— Ira (@ira) January 28, 2019
Rent Live was not actually live, but it did succeed in bringing back some of back those feelings we used to have about the show, crying through songs that we’ve heard over and over again. Bringing musicals, like Rent, to homes everywhere and bringing a message about acceptance and love across the world isn’t the worst thing to happen to us. Even if Valentina’s Angel left something to be desired (like the high notes).
(image: Carol Rosegg/Broadway Across America via Getty Images)
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