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The latest live musical to hit the small screen was none other than Rent: Live on Fox, but the production did not go on without a hitch. In an unfortunate twist, Brennin Hunt, who was cast to play Roger, broke his foot during rehearsal, leaving him unable to tackle the role for live broadcast. The show must go on, of course, and the decision was made to air a pre-taped version of the show, with the exception of a a grand finale that saw everybody out on stage, live on the air.
Rent: Live production designer Jason Sherwood chatted with CinemaBlend about the show, and he revealed why exactly the production couldn't just be changed to accommodate Brennin Hunt's injury and air live:
There was a very limited amount of time between the news and the time we would have to actually stage it. A lot of people were surprised that we didn't just restage the show with Brennin sitting down the whole time. First of all, he was in an extraordinary amount of pain, so to perform for that long would have been really difficult. And second of all, what everyone saw yesterday was a year of our work, and so to figure out a way to restage the majority of the show with camera in a matter of 90 minutes to two hours, was virtually impossible. We showed everyone the live show from the night before. Imagine what it would have been if we had another day of rehearsal.
While the Rent team did know slightly ahead of time that they would need to come up with a solution to the problem posed by Brennin Hunt's injury, there wasn't time for a solution that meant a fully-live broadcast. There was no understudy for the role of Roger, and as Jason Sherwood stated, Hunt was in a great deal of pain from an injury. Keeping him in the action for a three-hour show just couldn't have worked.
Honestly, Brennin Hunt deserves credit for getting out on stage to totally crush Roger's final solo song for live broadcast! He wasn't able to move much or race to Mimi's side, as Roger has in other productions of Rent. Nevertheless, he delivered an emotional climax to the show that had been building the seemingly doomed love story of Mimi and Roger all along, and he performed it for live broadcast.
If not for how Brennin Hunt's leg was propped carefully away from where he was serenading co-star Tinashe as Mimi, we might never have guessed that he was injured. Kudos to the entire Rent team for pulling off a full production that combined live filming and pre-taped segments on very little notice.
The timing was unfortunate, but what did hit the airwaves showcased a cast that put a lot of work into their performances, set designs that both honored and revolutionized the original staging of the musical, and the songs and story from the late Jonathan Larson. Although we'll never know what the show would have looked like if there had been another day of rehearsal, what could have been a disaster turned into a TV event unlike any live musical that has been done before.
Jason Sherwood revealed the changes they had to make in a small window of time to make that grand live finale happen:
We had to reblock a bunch so that Brennin could remain on the table, but everyone was so supportive of him and wanted him to be a part of that moment, and so it was an easy thing. We took 45 minutes and our brilliant directing team and choreography team adjusted things and made it work, and the ensemble rallied around him and we got to have an incredible finale.
That's right! Jason Sherwood and the rest of the Rent: Live team had less than an hour to work out how to change the climax of the entire show, which was a project that had been in the works for quite a long time. It would have undoubtedly been easier if they had just aired the pre-recorded finale from the previous night, when Brennin Hunt was presumably able to move about the stage as intended.
The final number as it was broadcast is the result of hard and very last-minute work from a talented team of individuals. Nobody could play through the pain on Brennin Hunt's behalf, but they could all rally. While reactions on social media have been mixed for Rent: Live, the final songs (including a wonderful reprise of "Seasons of Love" that brought back the original Broadway cast) seem to be a universal hit with viewers.
Rent: Live did benefit from the fact that the pre-taped segments weren't just performances of the songs in an empty theater. Jason Sherwood explained why Rent: Live was still a live show, even if not the live show originally planned. Here's how he put it:
How it worked is that on Saturday night, we ran the show and filmed it live in front of a live audience. That wasn't broadcast live, it was just taped live, and then when Brennin injured himself, we learned that we were going to have to air that, which was our dress rehearsal. So it was very much a live show in the same way that here in California, this audience watches the show on a three-hour delay after the audience in New York. Everyone just watched our live show on an 18-hour delay. So what everyone watched was indeed a live show, it just was live the night before.
The version of Rent that viewers at home got to see was filmed in front of a live audience, so the experience was more or less the same than it would have been if performed entirely live for the broadcast.
There were people mooing at Maureen, mosh pitting Mark and Roger, and probably about ready to start dancing from their seats whenever Angel started playing her plastic pickle tub drum. It was a full Rent experience even for those in Eastern Standard Time, who were counting on a live performance on Sunday night. Maybe the folks on the West Coast weren't even bothered by the pre-taped nature, as they wouldn't get to see it live anyway!
If you missed Rent: Live on January 27, you can find it streaming on Hulu now. If you did catch the show and now have the songs stuck in your head, you can find selections from the soundtrack on both iTunes and Spotify. For some viewing options now and in the not-too-distant future, check out our midseason TV premiere schedule.