When Mary asked Emily if they could do a blog post about RENT, LIVE! (ok it wasn’t totally live but we’ll discuss that) together, Emily said, “525,600 times yes!” So here they are, discussing Rent, their love for Rent, and their discussion about how this whole FOX spectacle came together. And how it didn’t. So without further ado and before we start bursting into song, let’s get into it, shall we? After all, no day but today! Sorry. I’m sorry.
Emily: Let’s start by talking about our RENT backgrounds. How did you get into Rent?
Mary: Well, I saw the 2005 movie adaptation, then got really really into listening to the original cast soundtrack. I didn't live near a theater so I never saw it live until our university did it. It was just ok, but MAN OH MAN did I love the movie and cast recording and listen to it a ton in high school.
Emily: See, I on the other hand… HATE THE MOVIE SO MUCH.
Mary: I get that. It’s not great. I was just at an age when it hit me.
Emily: I was introduced to the play in high school. I was a theater kid, SHOCKER. And so it was sort of just KNOWN that if you were a theater kid in high school in the 2000's, you were supposed to blast the original Broadway cast recording of RENT 24/7. And work RENT lyrics into everyday conversations. And THEN my theater department got to go to New York on a school trip, and a handful of us blew off the trip to the statue of liberty to go see Rent instead. And it was awesome.
Mary: Nice! I would have blown it off too.
Emily: So I’ve seen it onstage maybe 6 times? I’ve lost count. Anyway, I was super excited about the movie. But also nervous because Chris Columbus directed it.
Mary: Yeeeeahhh… he’s not my fave.
Emily: Anyway turns out I was right to be nervous because it’s a mess. Granted, I will still watch it and love it because somewhere deep in its soul the movie is still Rent. But at the same time I hate it. LOL.
Mary: Here's an interesting question to posit--is the musical itself kind of a disaster? This isn't something I came up with, but something I saw on Twitter, where I get all my hot Rent gossip.
Emily: Yes, there’s a really amazing video essay about this on YouTube which does a much better job of discussing the merits (or lack of merits) of Rent than I ever could, so I will link to that right here. What up, Lindsay Ellis? You’re smart.
Mary: People were speculating the musical isn't as good as it could be because Larson died before it could be properly workshopped and then it went on anyway.
Emily: Fair, but the movie is in itself a disaster for its own reasons.
Mary: I do love that the original cast is in the movie.
Emily: I love that and also I don’t because they’re way too old.
Mary: They really are, and that makes a difference.
Emily: I love it and I also hate it. That about sums up my feelings about the movie. But we’re not here to talk about the movie. We’re here to talk about Rent Live (?) which also in its very own special way was a disaster. Because Brennin Hunt (who played Roger) broke his foot.
Mary: Right, so they aired the dress rehearsal for the TV audience.
Emily: Part of me wondered if everyone was firing on all cylinders for this rehearsal. Because what we saw was a rehearsal. And so the energy probably wasn't as GREAT as it would have been for the real deal, even though there was a live audience there.
Mary: Exactly! Some of the performances were good, but not great where I thought they COULD be great. You can see the potential but it does seem like some of them (notably, in my opinion Mimi) are holding back.
Emily: Maybe we should just run through all of the actors and their performances?
Emily: Let’s start with Jordan Fisher, because I love him.
Mary: Yes! He was great.
Emily: Forever my favorite Dancing with the Stars contestant. I love, love this dance he did with Lindsay Arnold (whom I also adore). I just feel like that boy is going places. He has such great energy and charisma, and I think he proved he can handle a lead role last night.
Mary: He was also was a great choice as Mark, who is typically this VERY white guy. I think Fisher is able to bring some style to the part and new life into the songs while also just being very good in a musical theater way. Like, he's not boring but he's taking a boring part and still being true to it while also adding in his flair. Mark is the observer, after all, and he's doing more watching than show-stopping.
Emily: I love him so much.
Mary: He also did a song with Lin Manuel for the Moana soundtrack, I think.
Emily: YOU THINK! HE SANG “YOU’RE WELCOME,” MARY!
Mary: I knew you knew. I just thought we might want to link to it.
Emily: We definitely do, and I did.
Mary: Anyway, Jordan Fisher's great and I'm really glad he had such an up front part and I hope this means more cool musical roles for him.
Emily: Absolutely. I actually found out about Rent Live because I follow Jordan on all social media. So thanks, Jordan.
Mary: Yes, thank you!
Emily: But more about Mark. I did like that this cast was even more racially diverse than the normal casting.
Mary: Me too--Rent is already diverse, but I like this version that takes it even further! Lots of great actors and a totally diverse cast.
Emily: But Jordan was my favorite part, and normally I find Mark kind of annoying. But with Jordan, I was like, “Aw, he cares about his friends!” And also his voice was good and it felt like he was all in (since we mentioned energy).
Mary: He was definitely all-in, even in rehearsal, which is truly professional, in my opinion. Because in stage shows you've gotta give your all EACH PERFORMANCE.
Emily: I feel like this probably meant more to him than a lot of the cast as well. Like for someone like Vanessa Hudgens, whatever, this isn't the biggest thing she's ever done. For Jordan Fisher, it kind of was. Also it's HIS SHOW. At the end of the day, Mark is the heart of the story.
Mary: I will say Vanessa Hudgens was pretty great too. Her "Over the Moon," with her rolling on the floor and mooing, was wonderful, and she definitely has the vocal range for that song.
Emily: Okay but “Take Me or Leave Me” was my favorite Vanessa Hudgens moment. And that’s one of my favorite songs from the show anyway.
Mary: Yes, "Take me Or Leave Me" is a bop on it's own, but the staging of this version with Maureen dancing all sexy and jumping on the bed--so good. And Hudgens totally does the part justice.
Emily: I know I make fun of Vanessa Hudgens a lot in my So You Think You Can Dance recaps, but I do love her. I’m a High School Musical fan til I die.
Mary: For sure. I think she reached more as Maureen and actually embodied a part that isn't her or what she's always done. I like this new powerful Vanessa Hudgens. I thought she pulled off a really sexy performance as Maureen and I'm proud of her. Our baby’s growing up.
Emily: Look at her and Zac Efron now. She's a sexy lesbian and Zac Efron is Ted Bundy. They’s all growns up.
Mary: Grown! I am HERE FOR Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, but that’s for another blog post.
Emily: Oh yeah, sign me up for that blog post. It is happening. And I have so many feelings about it, but we have to get through this. Should we talk about Mimi next?
Mary: Tinashe as Mimi. I have never liked Mimi as a character. And Tinashe was...Fine? I didn't hate her, but it also felt like she was holding back for the big performance that never happened. Her voice sounded shaky in an unintentional way.
Emily: TBH that didn't really bother me. I always think of Rent as being about rawer vocal performances that sound less like professional Broadway, like more of the emotion and imperfection of rock music. When they were originally casting Rent, they wanted musicians and artists rather than experienced actors. But I do agree that the energy was lacking.
Mary: That’s a good point. Overall she seemed fine. I didn't really have any complaints or praise. I do think that it's kind of nice they were going for that original musician vibe in this case, because she is definitely a pop singer.
Emily: I will say Mimi is usually my favorite. She gets all the best songs.
Mary: WOULD YOU LIGHT MY CANDLEEEEEEEEEEEE
Emily: That one, No Day But Today, Out Tonight, Without You.
Mary: "Out Tonight" is so fun.
Emily: Okay yeah, but moving on. Are we talking about Roger now?
Mary: Brennin Hunt, who was on the X Factor I guess?
Emily: Okay I don’t know who this dude is. Only White Dude is what I’ll call him.
Mary: I don't know who he is and I don't want to know who he is because I wasn't crazy about him, BUT to be fair I just don't like Roger. So I realize I’m biased.
Emily: I don’t like him either. His solo songs are the worst.
Mary: In the last act they come back to the live performance for the very ending, and they've got Brennin Hunt with his broken foot just sort of...propped up, and I DIED. I laughed so hard because he is clearly unable to move and it just looks awkward. Mimi is DYING and he's just like, ok well bring her over here.
Emily: Hahah right.
Mary: They did the best they could, but it's still kind of funny.
Emily: I hate that that happened though. Like I can only imagine the panic.
Mary: Me too, but this is why we have understudies.
Emily: Yeah… I don’t know how television works. And that’s part of the problem. I feel like they’re still figuring out how to make live theater work on television. But more on that later. Who are we talking about next? I guess you knew this person who played Angel.
Mary: Yes! Valentina, a drag queen from RuPaul's drag race, plays Angel. And, she's not great. She doesn't have a great voice, and you GOTTA to play Angel. But I get why they hired Valentina because she brings with her a massive, bullying fan base that will squash any bad press about her. But wow I was holding my breath during some of her high notes.
Emily: I don’t know if the Angel/Tom Collins chemistry worked for me. And that’s so important for the show, because they’re the tragic love story.
Mary: I thought the chemistry was there.
Emily: Agree to disagree, I guess. Should we talk about Tom Collins? I don’t know who Brandon Dixon is either.
Mary: Me neither, but he was good.
Emily: Yes he was! My very live television theater-savvy dad just informed me Brandon Dixon played Judas in the live Jesus Christ Superstar. I need to start doing my research.
Mary: I didn’t love his rendition of “Santa Fe,” but otherwise, he was really good.
Emily: Oh really? What didn’t you like about it?
Mary: I didn't like that the verses were more talking than singing. But that probably goes back to me liking the original performance by Jesse Martin so much. I guess that leaves Kiersey Clemons as Joanne?
Emily: Yes! And I know who Kiersey Clemons is. She was in Dope, which I loved.
Mary: Apparently she’s also beloved by Flash fans. I liked Dope a lot and thought she was good in Rent, too! “The Tango Maureen” was SO SO GOOD.
Emily: Oh man I know! Two adorable people being cute, and singing one of my favorite songs.
Mary: Definitely! And I thought that they had good chemistry as an ex and soon to be ex kind of being perplexed about Maureen. It's a weird relationship and I think Fisher and Clemons did a good job of portraying it.
Emily: Sweet babies.
Mary: WAIT! We almost forgot Mario as Benny!
Emily: I don’t know who that is either.
Emily: Oh yeah I know this song!
Mary: That’s Mario! He was good, I thought. I was just surprised to see him, because where has he been?
Emily: I didn’t know he went anywhere!
Mary: You didn’t know him at all!
Mary: Keala Settle was also in it, as a chorus member, which was a weird choice. She sang “This is Me” in The Greatest Showman.
Emily: Yeah, I didn’t like her in this, and I hated The Greatest Showman.
Mary: She did rock out the little solos she got in Rent, though.
Emily: I hated the way “Seasons of Love” was performed in this version. Like, I was very disappointed.
Mary: I think my brain blacked out during that part because I have heard that song so many times I cannot process it anymore.
Emily: Well mine didn’t. They tried to make it into, like, a story. It’s just supposed to be actors singing.
Mary: Oh nooooo.
Emily: So I feel like now is the time to talk about my least favorite part of the show. The camera work.
Mary: GIRL YES. What was going on with the whacky cameras?!
Emily: I feel like whoever made those decisions has never seen a play before. There were several times where I said, "You know, there's a reason when you go to the theater, you can see the whole stage"
Mary: Compare it to something like the stage recording of Into the Woods, or the stage version of Sweeney Todd (both of which I own, so I'm just referencing them). When you record a stage show, JUST RECORD IT NORMALLY. Do some close ups now and then, but just pick an angle. I didn't need all the swooping cameras spinning around. It was wild and made me kind of dizzy.
Emily: Yeah exactly. Especially with those giant cast numbers, there are multiple things going on in different areas of the stage. We need to see all of it to understand what's going on.
Mary: The way the stage was set up seemed weird too. It was kind of in the round, but also there were platforms with dancers, I guess? It seemed like a lot.
Emily: Hard to say because we could never see the whole thing. There were a lot of close-ups.
Emily: And theater is for, like, the opposite of close-ups.
Mary: Definitely. It was a CHOICE and a choice I did not like.
Emily: God, FOX, it’s like you don’t know anything about theater.
Mary: I think this ties back to what you said earlier about how TV is still trying to figure out how to do theater. I'm happy they're figuring it out but it's still early in the process.
Emily: Yes, it’s like I planned that. Hehehe.
Mary: I think overall it was successful, even with the broken foot and even with the weird staging. I still liked it and had fun watching it, maybe because it's a rare opportunity to see theater broadcast for a wide audience. I'm all about access in theater.
Emily: I agree.
Mary: I like to think some kid is watching it and thinking hey, there's more stuff like this?
Emily: A little baby Mary.
Mary: This is true! I still like that mess of a movie though.
Emily: Okay it’s been fun everyone! Bye!
Mary: NO DAY BUT TOOOODAAAAAY!