Rent Live Injury Proves Hollywood Needs Understudies


Live musicals have taken television by storm in recent years, but the latest venture by Fox, Rent: Live, hit a stumbling block that everyone probably could have and should have expected.

During the dress rehearsal performance, the night before Rent: Live was supposed to air, Brennin Hunt, who played Roger, broke his foot just before he was set to perform the final act of the show. Consequently, the show did not get to air live the next day, with Fox instead choosing to broadcast the pre-taped rehearsal show; only the final segment aired live, with Hunt making an appearance in a bulky boot. The whole thing was a bit of a disappointing fiasco and many fans were left wondering why these kinds of shows don’t have understudies as every other Broadway show does.

Fox President Charlie Collier addressed the issue at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, including his thoughts on why the show didn’t have understudies and whether Fox would change that in the future.

“When you take on a risk of live television, you also are taking on the excitement of live [TV],” Collier said. When asked if this experience had made him reconsider casting understudies for live TV musicals, he responded, “I think it would have been impractical to have understudies for the entire cast. These are herculean investments and productions…”

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He went on to say he was incredibly proud of everyone involved in the project and the final product they created, especially the final segment which the network actually did air live. Collier did not technically answer the question in regard to whether they’d consider understudies for future musicals, but he did list the reasons for their impracticality.

“First of all, every Broadway show has a long run, and this [Rent: Live] is really building to one weekend,” “What’s remarkable about this production… it’s a pretty magical thing to not just note the choreography that comes with a normal Broadway play but the choreography of the production that goes around it — it is something we’re so proud of.”

If that sounds like a meandering answer, it definitely was, but here’s the gist. Having been in the room when that live dress rehearsal was recorded, I can confirm that it was a sprawling stage with incredibly complex camera work and blocking happening behind the scenes. These actors have to not just memorize lines and choreography, they had to know exactly which cameras are where and when, and they frequently had to sprint between sets — sometimes while still singing and dancing. I can sympathize with the conundrum of trying to lock in an actor for weeks of intense work that will culminate in one show in which they will hopefully not even have to perform. It’s a big ask to make. It’s also a big investment of money that networks would probably rather not spend.

That being said, the nature of understudies is that they’re backups. They know what they’re committing to when they take that job and to pretend otherwise is to misunderstand the nature of musical theater. Are you going to get Vanessa Hudgens level stars to sign on as understudies for these live musicals? No. But should you get no-name talent to be there just in case someone literally breaks a leg the day before air? Absolutely. As for the additional cost, can you really put a price on peace of mind?

Rent Live! is currently streaming on Hulu.

Source : TVGuide