- “Rent: Live” aired on Sunday on Fox.
- The show, which was supposed to air entirely live, seems to be hard to review because most of the telecast was previously recorded due to its star Brennin Hunt breaking his foot. The actor, who played Roger, suffered the injury during a dress rehearsal the night before the live show.
- Had the production taken a note from the world of theatre and cast understudies the show could have aired live as planned instead of airing recorded rehearsal footage the world wasn’t supposed to see.
- “Rent: Live” also fell victim to a problem that plagues most of the recent live TV musicals: poor sound mixing.
Between NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live!” and Sunday’s “Rent: Live” on Fox, live TV musicals have made great strides since 2013.
Leading actor choices keep getting better, and the set designs have gone from basic to brilliant. With 2016’s “Grease: Live,” live audiences were finally incorporated to mimic the energy of live theatre.
But, TV hasn’t fixed everything.
The networks need to take a few more pages from the live theatre’s book.
Understudies aren’t a cop-out. They’re the lifeblood of the theatre.
Fox’s “Rent: Live” aired with mostly previously recorded footage from a dress rehearsal because the actor who played Roger, Brennin Hunt, had broken his foot and was unable to perform.
Most headlines of the announcement joked about “the show must go on” quality of it all. Yet, technically, the show didn’t truly go on. Fox opted out of airing most of the show live and only switched gears for the final 10 or 15 minutes. While viewers at home watched the previously recorded footage, the in-studio audience saw a staged reading of the musical that featured Hunt in a cast and wheelchair.
Unlike most professional theatre productions, Fox didn’t cast any understudies for its leads.
Live theatre is thrilling because anything can happen, including the bad, so productions have always been smart to have a fail-safe in understudies.
Understudies are actors who learn another actor’s role in order to be able to replace them whenever needed.
Were this not “Rent: Live” and instead a revival of “Rent” on Broadway, an understudy for Hunt would have gone on without a beat. The show would be performed as intended with its proper choreography and energy.
Audiences may sigh when a big name misses a show, but theatre standards are high and understudies are just as equally talented as the lead cast. They have to be in order to keep an entire role memorized while also performing ensemble duties or other tasks.
Understudies keep shows going. After all, some of Broadway’s biggest names got their starts as understudies. When Ethel Merman couldn’t perform, Elaine Stritch stepped up. Not too shabby.
There needs to be a better audio balance between the actors, the band, and the audience.
Even though “Rent: Live” aired previously recorded footage, it still suffered the same problem many of the recent telecasts faced: sound mixing.
Sound mixing is the complex art of tweaking audio levels to make all the different sources of sound feel seamless and cohesive.
When it comes to the live TV musicals, striking a balance between the actors, the band, and the audience is crucial. And it’s something even the best telecasts – looking at you, “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” – struggle with. Sometimes the music overpowers the singing, but more often than not, the audience overpowers the singing.
Live theatre necessitates a live audience. It’s one of the biggest reasons, among many others, “The Sound of Music Live!” and “Peter Pan Live!” fell so flat. It’s part of the energy and the experience.
But it’s off-putting that during “What You Own” in “Rent: Live,” the audience screamed so loudly as Brennin Hunt’s Roger and Jordan Fisher’s Mark performed that the lyrics were inaudible several times.
The same happened during “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” when Brandon Victor Dixon performs “Heaven on Their Minds” and Norm Lewis begins his beautiful baritone in “This Jesus Must Die.” (The woos are even included in the album.)
How is this different?
It’s called theatre etiquette. At the appropriate times, you laugh, you clap, you cheer, but more than anything you respect the people up on stage.
It’s an unspoken rule, but it’s one all good theatergoers abide by, and it’s one they need to instill in the live TV musicals studio audience.
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