Review Roundup: Were the Critics 'Over the Moon' With RENT on FOX?
RENT on FOX officially aired last night, January 27. Due to an injury suffered by the production's Roger, Brennin Hunt, portions of the show were pre-recorded, but the show must go on!
The star-studded cast included actress Kiersey Clemons (Joanne Jefferson), Emmy nominee and Tony Award winner Brandon Victor Dixon (Tom Collins), singer/songwriter Jordan Fisher (Mark Cohen), actress and singer Vanessa Hudgens(Maureen Johnson), newcomer and singer/songwriter Brennin Hunt(Roger Davis), R&B/Pop superstar Mario (Benjamin Coffin III), recording artist Tinashe(Mimi Marquez) and performer Valentina (Angel Dumont Schunard).
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Aisha Harris, New York Times: Around 10:45 p.m., the would-be live show finally became live. Unfortunately, the last few songs of "Rent" are some of the musical's most unremarkable, as the story hurtles awkwardly toward its jarring ending. Yet in those moments, as the characters comforted one another during the final song and cast members from the original Broadway production, including Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs and Anthony Rapp, appeared onstage for "Seasons of Love," I regretted that these hard-working performers didn't get to put on the show that they had signed up for (even if the fully live "Rent" probably would have suffered from the same maddening camera whiplash and bad sound). Yes, it was disappointing. But clearly there was love in this production, too.
Caroline Famke, Variety: Many actors were noticeably (and understandably!) saving their voices and energy for the real thing they believed was yet to come. The first half especially felt more listless than "Rent," a musical that lives and dies by enthusiasm and adrenaline, ever should be. Notes that should have soared petered out, waiting to truly wow the next time the curtain was raised. Alex Rudzinski, who recently directed the hell out of "Jesus Christ Superstar" live for NBC, defaulted to so many swooping cameras that Jason Sherwood's impressive production design kept getting lost in translation. The sound mix only rarely figured out how to balance the band with the vocals, let alone the screaming crowd surrounding them all. When it finally went live, the difference - both with the Fox cast and the original Broadway cast that joined to sing the moving curtain call performance of "Seasons of Love" - was palpable, and all the more frustrating for it. In fact, some audience members at tonight's show tweeted videos of the cast performing live around Hunt, belting from a wheelchair - and even those had more vibrant energy than the pre-taped version millions were watching instead.
Kaitlin Milligan, BroadwayWorld: I spent the whole show wondering what each performance would be like if the cast and crew knew this would end up being what was shown to millions, instead of just a live audience of a few hundred. It was obvious that for many of the songs, the cast were saving their voice for the live show, which led to lackluster numbers. The first act felt disjointed. Many of the songs weren't quite there, and the camera work made it hard to follow at times. In "Another Day," for example, the camera never explains to the audience the moment that the rest of the cast joins in to sing, which loses song's the powerful effect. You could see the potential that songs like "Today For You" had, with Valentina's captivating performance as Angel overshadowed by the loud audience.
Brian Lowry, CNN: The producers offered an extraordinarily nice live flourish as a finale, reuniting the original cast with this new one for a buoyant performance of "Seasons of Love," combined with a sweet tribute to playwright Jonathan Larson and the enduring legacy of his creation. Still, that highlight -- and the others mentioned -- weren't enough to compensate, finally, for the various ways that "Rent" came up short.
Greg Evans, Deadline: Vanessa Hudgens, who played the avant garde performance artist Maureen, and Kiersey Clemons as her lawyer girlfriend Joanne were terrific, their "Take Me or Leave Me" duet one of tonight's highlights. And if the extremely silly, pretend-avant garde "Over the Moon" remains Rent's single worst number, Hudgens did what she could.
And Brandon Victor Dixon, as the big-hearted anarchist Tom Collins, all but walked off with the show, just as he did as Judas in last spring's Jesus Christ Superstar, earning every last teardrop from "I'll Cover You," the love ballad he first sings as a duet with his beloved Angel (an assured, if not always vocally on point, Valentina from RuPaul's Drag Race) and then later, heartrendingly, at Angel's memorial service.
Caroline Framke, Variety: In that respect, it's no surprise at all that most of the best moments of Fox's "Rent" - and the show in general - squarely belong to its queer characters. Kiersey Clemons brings a welcome grounded energy to the role of Joanne, a pragmatic lesbian determined to slash through all the red tape she can find. Dixon's performance as the earnest Collins - especially opposite a game but outmatched Valentina as his partner, Angel - is a forceful reminder of just how talented he is. (His gorgeous reprise of "I'll Cover You" left his castmates in tears, even in dress rehearsal.) And no one seemed to have told Hudgens that the Saturday performance was a dress rehearsal, because her vulpine Maureen, a flirtatious performance artist with charisma to burn, storms the stage with so much urgent fire that you can practically feel the heat emanating from the screen.
Darren Franich, EW: Was the production just too ambitious for its own good? There were so many cameras swirling around that giant set. You could see multiple planes of action, performed in-the-round, requiring the actors to dance towards a dozen audience directions. The first transcendent performance was "Light My Candle," with Mimi (Tinashe) and Roger flirting through the apartment set, their movements tracked from what looked like a thousand angles.
Robert Lloyd, LA Times: The production offered some interesting new ideas as to staging, but the pace felt rushed at times, and muddled at others; numbers that should have been surefire did not always connect. At times the musicians obscured the singers; other times they sounded strangely far off. The camerawork too, switching from long to wide-angle lenses or careening about the stage(s), often broke the reality of the action instead of supporting it.
Kelly Lawler, USA Today: The result made the best of a very bad situation. It's theater after all; the show must go on. But the rehearsal performance combined with other problems - dizzying staging and camera work, a too-loud audience, awkward lines and lyrics substituted for curse words - made it difficult for "Rent" to, well, sing.
Daniel Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter: None of that is to say that Fox's Rent was a complete disaster. In the early going it felt like it might be. Instead, the second act picked up admirably and there was a stretch of songs peaking with Vanessa Hudgens and Kiersey Clemons' spectacular "Take Me or Leave Me," a wonderfully choreographed "Contact" and Brandon Victor Dixon's predictable emotional decimation (in a good way) of "I'll Cover You." Throw in an undeniably weighty and undeniably pandering "Seasons of Love" reprise featuring the original Broadway cast at the end and it wouldn't surprise me at all if some portion of devotees left the production somewhere between "completely satisfied" and "reasonably content."
Travis M. Andrews, The Washington Post: The circumstances of Sunday's telecast are particularly unfortunate considering the inherent hurdles "Rent" had to overcome to appear on network television at all. Part of the musical's immense appeal has always been its rawness, the way it discussed issues that didn't appear in mainstream culture - from the AIDS epidemic to drug use to taboo (at least in the 1990s) relationships. That most of it remained uncensored is a minor miracle, though aspects of it were toned down to the chagrin of many die-hards fans. Changing an expletive-laden line from "Tango: Maureen" or removing one of the, erm, more personal items mentioned in "La Vie Boheme" doesn't change the show's overall message - but any alterations to be in compliance with the FCC does smack of a sad sense of irony.