So I’m going to be brutally honest. Most of Fox’s Live on TV musical adaptations have been a bust for me. From what I’ve read online over the years I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person with this opinion. People generally have mixed opinions on casting among other things, including censorship. When you choose to do a musical with material that won’t necessarily fit into a 14Α television rating. At this point they have to change elements of the script to fit into that rating, including changing some iconic lines and elements that from an acting and audience perspective, add a certain amount of emphasis to particular scenes.
Anything that you can possibly think of that would count as criticism towards TV musical formats? Rent Live! had them all. But in another turn of events – Rent Live! wasn’t even live.
I know that Rent Live! is old news at this point. But Rent is one of my favourite musicals of all time, and when this adaptation first aired I definitely had some opinions. Since I now have a platform where I can share these opinions, I’m going to do just that.
For starters, I think we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room: With the exception of the final scene of the show, the entirety of what aired the night of the show was from a dress rehearsal the previous day with a live audience. The producers made the decision to air this footage because an actor who played a key role in the show–Roger– had broken his foot at the very end of the dress rehearsal.
Fans were obviously upset at this decision which seemed to go against musical theatre’s number one rule: the show must go on. I totally sympathized with them as well. If the producers were truly trying to honour the world of live theatre they would have taken multiple precautions that could have massively changed how the show turned out in the end. Most notably, they could have hired an understudy. Here’s the problem with this conclusion and in relation, what most people fail to remember about Fox. They are a TV network, and their number one goal isn’t to honour the essence of musical theatre or a live show. It’s to make money.
In order for a network to make money, they need to make sure people tune into their special. Companies will only pay for advertising, therefore putting money in Fox’s pocket, when they know there will be a sizeable audience to see their ads. This is why Superbowl ads are so expensive. For these live musical specials, Fox knows that the way they coral the biggest audience is attaching celebrities to the production. They hire big names in film, television and the music industry to play these beloved characters in musical theatre because they hope that these celebrities will bring them a bigger audience. They know that musical theatre fans will always be their biggest critics. They need fans of the celebrities they hire to post about how much they loved the show online to balance that out Hiring an understudy also would have cost Fox more money to begin with.
If I remember correctly, another key argument from the forums back when Rent Live! first aired was that the actor should have just done the show in a wheelchair. People were arguing that it would have shown diversity, and in not letting him do so the network was invalidating representation of people with disabilities. I understand the issue we have with diversity on television, especially with showing disabilities. Logistically though, this argument does not hold up to the timeline the show was working with or how live theatre works in general.
The actor broke his foot in the dress rehearsal. This was the NIGHT before the show was set to air. Not only did Rent Live! include various lifts and stairs that Roger had to climb up and down, but the choreography was absolutely insane. 24 hours is an impossible timeframe to make all these changes. There’s no way they could have redesigned and rebuilt the entire set, and in extension, reblocked all the scenes where those set changes were made to accommodate for a wheelchair. The fact that they were able to pull off the finale of the show fully live with him in a wheelchair shows that they did put the effort in to make it work as best they could with the timeframe they had to work with.
Another big criticism of the show was that the acting and singing was subpar to what was expected. Again, this can be attributed to the fact that it was a taped dress rehearsal. The actors would have been saving their voices and performances for the real show the next day since, at that point, they believed it would still in fact go on.
Honestly, all these criticisms considered, the part I hated the most was the live studio audience. They were annoying as all hell and I just wanted them to shut up.
As an adaptation of one of my favourite shows of all time, Rent Live! was mediocre at best. I’ve never really been a fan of the Fox Live! musicals, and from what I’ve seen that’s been the general consensus. I’m surprised that they still happen almost every year. At the end of the day, there were a lot of different factors that contributed to Rent Live! turning out the way it did. This kind of situation proves why it’s important to know who your audience is if you’re trying to put on a show like this. It seems as though musical theatre fans made up the majority of Fox’s audience for Rent Live! yet they made production choices that upset that audience. Maybe they’ll learn from this and make some changes for this year’s production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Maybe they won’t. I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks.