Rent is one of the most beloved musicals of all time. For us -- TV Guide writers Megan Vick and Lindsay MacDonald -- the 2005 movie was our intro to loving musical theater. We then sought out live theater productions and began a more than decade long love affair with the world of Broadway (we also get why people hate the Rent movie, but that's another story).
So, when Fox announced that Rent would be on its live musical event agenda, we were both excited and terrified that this piece of art could become Twitter fodder instead of a celebration of the show. The casting didn't do much to alleviate those fears with quite a few wildcards in the mix. It wasn't until we saw the dress rehearsal on Saturday, Jan. 26 that we saw what an impressive job Fox, this cast and crew had managed to pull off.
The dress rehearsal was also where star Brennin Hunt rolled his ankle during the final commercial break, forcing production to try and make their way through the closing numbers with Roger remaining stationary on the apartment table. That dress rehearsal ended up being most of what fans saw watching from home on Sunday, so the roadcast wasn't really live, except for the last act where the Fox folks were ultimately joined by the original cast of Rent to close out the show. We, as two die-hard Rentheads, recapped the show below.
Megan: I heard a rumor that Ben Platt was offered the role of Mark in this production and to be honest, I kind of held it against Jordan that he wasn't Ben. That was a mistake, and I am making a formal apology right now. This kid is going places. Additionally, I'd like to say that I've never been very invested in production design Emmy awards, but if Rent does not win for this immaculate setup, it will be a travesty. This set is SO freakin' cool.
Megan: Okay, the part of Angel requires so much and in 2019 you can't just ask anyone to put on a great outfit and wig and call it a day. I think that Valentina has the right spirit for Angel -- sweet and sassy. I mean, those dance moves are killer and I feel like she's the guardian this group has been looking for. However, vocally...
Lindsay: Vocally she's just not as strong as we'd all hoped. It's hard to out-sing a live audience who knows all the words and is singing along with you, so I can excuse most of it on a combination of nerves and noise. You're right, though, that the spirit of the character (and hell yes, those dance moves) are technically speaking more important to the show than Angel's vocals, so at least Valentina's got that in her corner. Just stand by for, "I'll Cover You."
Lindsay: You know who did not disappoint here? Jordan Fisher. While Brennin gets my love for recreating a Roger-clone worthy of the original Broadway show, Jordan Fisher has stolen my heart with this totally new and unique version of Mark. His Mark is more whimsical and playful thanks to Jordan's natural charisma, and that charming little grin of his saved a number that would have otherwise been kind of a "meh."
Megan: Jordan is the MVP of this production I think, but there's someone who didn't hold up their end here. I love Kiersey Clemons. She sang her heart out in one of my favorite movies last year, Hearts Beat Loud, but this felt shockingly off-kilter. The thing about Joanne is that she's a powerhouse voice. If she's taking charge of Mark in this scene then she needed to own it, but it felt like she got overcome with nerves. She can do better, I know she can.
Megan: Girl. GIRL! "Out Tonight" is my favorite song in the whole show and it is so much more challenging than people think. You have to have a serious range to hit those high notes and dance like Mimi does. Many have tried and failed to pull this number off, but Tinashe showed that she has some real star power here. It was so amazing in person, but the sound mixing during the broadcast made her sound a little off. This was the moment where she turned me into a fan, though.
Lindsay: Was it sound mixing or just her dancing too hard? I agree that the song is super difficult and she danced her ass off, so I'm willing to forgive a few vocal missteps.
Megan: Fine, but then she kills it during, "Another Day." She sings Brennin under the table.
Lindsay: Look, I'm going to go to my death defending Brennin Hunt and not just because this poor sweet thing broke his foot in the name of art. I have literally never heard someone who sounds so much like Adam Pascal's Roger in my life, and in a show where some other really drastic changes were made, anything that harkens back to the original is appreciated. Plus, he's just got that raspy bad-boy thing DOWN.
Lindsay: Music nerds will notice that they appear to have fiddled with the arrangement of this song to give Collins (Brandon Victor Dixon) some of the difficult harmonizing work and Angel the easier to achieve melodies when it really should have been the other way around. It's not something I'm going to get particular about though since the stronger vocalist taking the more challenging notes is just good sense.
Megan: Thank you for this education because all I had was, "Oh wow, this is... not great." There's no amount of sashaying to make a song like this work if you can't hit those notes. I've seen worse, but this is definitely not a "best of" moment of the show.
Megan: When people say they were nervous about this cast, they are actually saying they were nervous about Vanessa Hudgens because of that infamous Hollywood Bowl performance of Rent, in which she played Mimi. It's been years since then, but could she really be weird and powerful enough to pull off Maureen? Yes folks, yes she could. As soon as she hit that extended note in "Over the Moon," my fears about Hudgens being able to rock this vanished. I have never been so glad to be wrong!
Lindsay: The Hollywood Bowl performance still feels too soon to bring up. Naturally, seeing her take on an arguably more difficult part in the same musical was daunting. Living up to Idina Menzel's legacy is a pretty tall freaking order after all. And then she just SHOWED UP! I've also never been so happy to be proven wrong about my own expectations because Vanessa killed every single moment of "Over the Moon" from the vocals to the acting to the mooing. Bow down to your queen, peasants.
Megan: I've had 24 hours to process this and now a clear view of the choreography and I still can't help being offended by this version of "La Vie Boheme." There are two Rent tracks you can't mess with and they are this and "Seasons of Love." I understand some lyrics weren't going to make it due to broadcast standards (like Benny saying puke instead of piss), but there were other changes made that don't make sense. Where was the order sequence? Is it really "La Vie Boheme" if you don't get to yell "WINE AND BEER!"? The theater fans at home had to be so confused during a number we were all looking forward to and I'm not okay.
Lindsay: Aside from Keala Settle hitting that incredible note in the final run, "Seasons of Love" was bullsh--.
Megan: Wow. I said there are only two songs you can't mess with and they did it with both? They gave iconic parts to chorus members. This is the prime sing-a-long part of the musical and I am just so frustrated with how both "Seasons of Love" and "La Vie Boheme" came out. They are too iconic to be treated like this.
Megan: THAT IS THE KIERSEY I CAME TO SEE! I told you that she was capable and that's the kind of electricity I wanted. "Take Me or Leave Me" is my second favorite so I am so glad it came together like that. And I'll say it again, Hudgens is owning every minute she is on the stage.
Lindsay: I'm torn between being glad that they left it in (the movie removed the song completely) and being just confused about why they chose to do... that. I get that they couldn't get away with the usual bump and grind that number calls for but it just didn't totally work for me. Strangely enough, it was the only time I thought Valentina's vocals were on solid ground
Megan: I know there are a lot of Rent purists who were angry that "Contact" was left out of the film, so I give Foxcredit for going there and including it, but I also didn't need it? It's interesting but it just feels like such a disconnect from actually losing Angel, which is a pivotal moment in the entire show. It takes an extra beat to get that sadness. I would have preferred a full "La Vie Boheme" than what they did here.
Megan: Brandon was one of the people I was most looking forward to seeing in this production, knowing that he took over for Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr in Hamilton. I knew he had to have pipes, but the "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" is by far his shining moment in the show. It's the first time I've been misty-eyed all show. Absolutely breathtaking.
Lindsay: Honestly, I forgive this show everything after that knockout performance. For the most part, Collins was consistently good, but not a showstopper or scene-stealer. That changed real quick when he added in the soul-crushing pain of losing Angel. Mad props to Keala for the assist.
Lindsay: Guys. GUYS. "What You Own" is totally the turning point for the final act, and I cannot stress how important it is to nail it. And holy cow this one did! This version had all the bells and whistles including crowd surfing, ladders, and possibly one broken foot. Poor Brennin. Never the less, the energy in the room was nearly as pitch perfect as the voices of the two heroes who shall forever be known as Brennin "Do The Damn Thing" Hunt and Jordan "Sweet Baby Angel" Fisher.
Megan: Ugh, this poor guy. Look at that cast! I know it's really sad that this cast didn't get to put on their final show as planned, but I also can't help snort laughing that they kept a close up of Roger yelling, "NO!" when Maureen and Joanne bring Mimi in from the cold... and then he doesn't move to get her. I totally get that Brennin couldn't get up, but oh my god, it's awkward watching him stay on the table instead of doing anything to help bring her in. That being said, he sang for his life in "Your Eyes." Damn, boy.
Lindsay: He'd taken a couples stumbles in the taped show, but I've got to say, he really redeemed himself with this. There were definitely some parts in the middle where he was overacting, but I got back on the bandwagon after that serenade.
Megan: Okay, I can't even pretend to be composed enough to come up with a witty section headline for this. We just bore witness to the original cast of Rent reuniting all on one stage and it was absolutely beautiful. I cried when we saw them do it at the dress rehearsal and it's just as magical on screen. Something about that just felt holy. Idina Menzel will forever be queen.
Lindsay: Once the original Broadway cast started posting photos from the set of Rent everyone knew this was coming, but it was still just so magical to watch that wall lift up to reveal the faces and voices we've loved for over 20 years singing that epic final number. The only thing that made it even better was Adam Pascal leaving the herd to go hang out with poor, immobilized Brennin. Thank you for watching that miracle take place with us, and remember to always measure your lives in love.