“Rent”-heads, it’s been more than 525,600 minutes since Fox announced the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical would come to television, and finally “no day but today” has arrived. The special joins the ranks of other Broadway musicals that have been given the live-TV treatment, such as NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar: Live” and Fox’s own live “Grease,” both of which earned critical acclaim.
Based on the music, book, and lyrics by Jonathan Larson — who sadly passed just before the musical debuted off-Broadway — “Rent” has earned a rabid following and numerous awards. The gritty update of Puccini’s “La Bohème” follows seven struggling artists who live in New York’s East Village of the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Sunday’s broadcast comes with a note of sadness. Country artist Brennin Hunt, who competed in the first season of “The X-Factor,” plays struggling musician Roger Davis in the show, but during Saturday night’s dress rehearsal Hunt sustained an ankle injury which means Sunday night’s show could rely on the pre-taped segments from the night prior. To what extent “Rent” will be truly live was not announced prior to showtime. According to an official statement from Fox, “In the spirit of ‘Rent,’ everyone — producers and cast, original and current — is dedicated to ensuring that tonight’s broadcast must, and will, go on.”
IndieWire was in the audience for the dress rehearsal Saturday night, and without getting into spoilers, can confirm that the live-TV musical event experience has reached a new level of evolution, largely thanks to the way these shows have come to embrace the importance of the live audience. On Sunday night, as with Saturday, over 1,000 people will be seated in the Fox Studios soundstage where the elaborate sets have been built; how the show reveals their presence is just one of the surprises in store.
The rest of the cast hails from a range of disciplines. Vanessa Hudgens, who plays performance artist Maureen Johnson, first broke out in Disney’s “High School Musical” franchise. She’s an old hand at the live-TV musical game, having starred as Rizzo in Fox’s “Grease.” Another “Grease” alum is Jordan Fisher, who plays aspiring filmmaker and narrator Mark Cohen. Similarly, “Hamilton” alum Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays computer scientist Tom Collins, recently earned an Emmy nomination for his role as Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar: Live.”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Miss Congeniality winner Valentina plays drag queen/percussionist Angel Dumont Schunard, while “Dope” and “Transparent” actress Kiersey Clemons plays Maureen’s girlfriend Joanne Jefferson, and musicians Mario and Tinashe play landlord Benjamin Coffin III and dancer Mimi Marquez, respectively.
Additionally, Keala Settle, who was a showstopper in “The Greatest Showman” as the bearded lady singing “This Is Me,” will join the cast for the iconic solo in “Seasons of Love.”
“Rent” boasts two directors: Michael Greif (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “Rent”), who directed the original New York Theatre Workshop and Broadway productions of “Rent,” is the director overseeing the stage direction. Alex Rudzinski (“Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” “Grease: Live,” “Dancing with the Stars”) will serve as the live television director. Sonya Tayeh serves as the choreographer.
Below, follow along with the IndieWire TV team throughout the airing for an assessment of the best and worst moments as they happen. [Editor’s note: It should go without saying, but spoilers follow.]
The “Rent” live musical event airs Sunday, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.