BWW Album Review: RENT (Original Soundtrack of the Fox Live Television Event) Stumbles and Mostly Falls Flat
When it comes to RENT being on broadcast television, it was always going to be a dicey experience. Diehard fans were sure to be disappointed by lines altered to be in compliance with the FCC. Then, casting a handful of pop performers over trained actors was sure to lead to questionable character choices throughout the evening. And, to be fair, the broadcast we saw hit all those points. Then, Sony Masterworks Broadway's RENT (Original Soundtrack of the Fox Live Television Event) drives them home with all the subtly of a sledgehammer bludgeoning a nail.
Unfortunately, since the recording presents the audio exactly as we heard it on Fox, we cannot escape the wholly underwhelming and surprisingly lackluster performance offered by Tinashe as Mimi and Valentina's incredibly tuneless warbling as Angel. Respectively, "Out Tonight" and "Today 4 U" are rendered unlistenable, and songs like "I Should Tell You" and "I'll Cover You" are salvaged because of the other halves of those duets. Perhaps this could be blamed on the fact that we all ended up seeing the pre-taped dress rehearsal. But marking through a dress rehearsal is inexcusable, so let's not entertain that idea. Moreover, there are awkward tempos that plague this recording too, especially during the spoken parts on "Happy New Year A" as our heroes convene outside their padlocked building and Brandon Victor Dixon's general restructuring of the front half of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" in accordance with Stephen Oremus's new orchestrations and arrangements. Lastly, the overly enthusiastic audience sometimes dampens the recording by cheering too vigorously at moments and at other key moments when cheers should have been completely stifled.
Yet, there are positive aspects of RENT (Original Soundtrack of the Fox Live Television Event). It is a wonderfully crisp and clear capture of the audio from the television event. It also stands as a testament to the consistent quality performances offered by Jordan Fisher as Mark, Kiersey Clemons as Joanne, and Vanessa Hudgens as Maureen. It preserves the animated, mostly praise-worthy performances from Dixon as Collins and Brennin Hunt as Roger. Also, for the first time, fans of the show can legally own a cast recording that includes the few snippets of spoken dialogue (even if some of it has been altered for this presentation) not previously recorded.
Standout numbers across the two discs include the rollicking titular song "Rent," which sounds impressively angsty and driving with the 23-piece orchestra. Hunt's "One Song Glory" is reminiscent of Adam Pascal's iteration from the original Broadway cast recording but colored with just enough of his own signatures to make the song feel fresh, original, and vibrantly alive. In the hands of Fisher and Clemons, "Tango: Maureen" is spunky and fun. Then, Clemons works magic with "We're Okay," perfectly landing all the nuanced shifts in emotions as she jumps back and forth from conversation to conversation. Hudgens's "Over the Moon" is deliciously quirky and made resplendent with her well-placed belts. Keala Settle's belted high notes on "Seasons of Love" makes that song, despite weaknesses in the performances of others, worthy of appreciation. "Take Me or Leave Me" is the brilliant show-stopper it is meant to be, sung with palpable pizzazz from both Hudgens and Clemons. Fisher's "Halloween" is tinged with effective heartache and sung to perfection. Fisher and Hunt, despite some awkward reverb and other microphone issues, offer a stunning "What You Own."
Sony Masterworks Broadway's RENT (Original Soundtrack of the Fox Live Television Event) captures an unforgettable moment from television history with aplomb. For anyone who experienced RENT for the first time with this production, this record will be worth owning for that nostalgia factor alone. Outside of that, I suggest dusting off yours CDs or cassette tapes of the original Broadway cast recording. Revisit a version of this show that launched careers and was nothing short of lightening captured in a bottle.