Pros: Great music, acting, and singing
Cons: Characters behavior is extremely hard to get behind.
The Bottom Line:
This iconic show
Gets a great live performance
But characters ruin
A Contrary Review of the Musical of My Generation
I’ve always enjoyed musicals, so I remember hearing about Rent in the late 1990’s. At the time, it was the musical that everyone was dying to see. When I heard what it was about, I decided to skip it, so I never saw the touring cast or the original movie. However, I finally gave in and watched the recent Rent – Live! Production that Fox aired. As I expected, I didn’t care for it, but not for the reasons I expected to.
The musical tells the story of a group of friends in New York City. Act 1 all takes place on Christmas Eve 1991, and Act 2 follows them over the next 12 months. We first meet Mark Cohen (Jordan Fisher), a videographer, and Roger Davis (Brennin Hunt), a musician. They are roommates and struggling to make ends meet. Heck, they can’t even pay the rent. Slowly, we are introduced to their circle of friends and loves. There’s neighbor Mimi (Tinashe), a drug addict, Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen (Vanessa Hudgens), a performance artist planning an act for that night. There’s Maureen’s current girlfriend, Joanne (Kiersey Clemons). We get to witness their friend Tom (Brandon Victor Dixon) meet the love of his life, trans person Angel (Valentina). Rounding out the group is Ben (Mario), a former roommate who married into the family that owns their building. And four of these people are HIV positive. How will that impact them this night and going through 1992?
Like with last year’s Jesus Christ Superstar in Concert, the set was mainly steel scaffolding, although there were more sets than we saw last year. This allowed the actors to freely move from one area to another. It’s a look that takes a little getting used to, especially when watching a filmed version instead of a play on stage, but I soon got lost in the story.
The music is pretty good. This is a rock musical, and most of the story is told in song, with very little spoken dialogue between the numbers. Some of the songs are fun, and some are beautiful. Some are even heartbreaking. I can certainly understand why people love it so much.
I’ve never seen the original cast, but I am familiar with a few members of this cast. I thought they were all great in their various roles. They pulled me in, and their voices were strong. Just about everyone gets a chance to shine, and they all take full advantage of their moments.
Unfortunately, the live audience detracts from that some. There are times they are cheering a performance or a favorite song, drowning out the actor or actress singing. It really bugs me and detracts from the show for me.
This was advertised as being live, and it almost was. The night before, Brennin Hunt broke his ankle at the final dress rehearsal. Fortunately, they were filming it, and they were able to use that dress rehearsal footage for most of the show. The final 15 minutes, including appearances by the original cast, is still live. Honestly, that didn’t bother me one way or the other, just an interesting note.
So far, it’s sounding like I enjoyed it, right? And I can easily see why it is so iconic and so beloved. This was one of the few pieces of entertainment to really deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in any meaningful way, or at least ones that have reached this level of status in pop culture. It is powerful. I felt myself chocking up multiple times in the final hour of the show as things start to turn tragic for the characters. As I’ve already said, the songs are fun, and some of them are powerful.
I had avoided the show because I had heard the character’s lives don’t reflect my values. And that was certainly an issue for me. I am a Christian, so I’m sure you can see where I would have issues with how the characters are living their lives. There’s one song in particular in the second act that I didn’t enjoy. I understand that some of the lines had been changed, and the “F” word was taken out since this was airing on network TV. But that’s not my biggest issue with the show.
There are three main couples in this piece. (Poor Mark, our window into their world, is single for the entire thing.) Of those couples, only one shows any real love or devotion to each other over the course of the show. And they are a very minor couple. The two couples we see the most of are constantly fighting. They don’t trust each other. Yet we are supposed to believe all these characters are great friends? And we are supposed to root for at least one of these characters to have a happy ending? Personally, I was rooting they would grow up enough to realize how bad their relationships were and break up permanently.
So, I recommend Rent – Live! only for people like me who are curious about the play. It’s a good way to get the story. But the story and characters themselves keep me from really recommending it, even recognizing why it is so beloved.