Fox’s planned live broadcast of Rent — scheduled for Sunday night — has encountered a serious speed bump.
Actor Brennin Hunt, who plays one of the male leads, Roger, in the musical, broke his right foot during Saturday’s dress rehearsal. The injury, which appeared to be serious, occurred ahead of the final act in what is expected to be a three-hour performance. Hunt was taken to a local hospital following the dress rehearsal. Hunt’s status for Sunday’s live broadcast on Fox is currently unknown, but the network and producers stress that the show will go on as planned — with Hunt onstage as Roger in some capacity. Rent is a physically demanding musical with the Roger character, among others, involved in a lot of dancing and rushing up and down stairs across multiple sets. Hunt confirmed that he broke his foot in a video posted to his instagram account. He will take the stage Sunday as Roger. It’s unclear how Fox will handle his limited mobility as the actor’s right foot was seen in a massive cast.
“Last night during a live performance of Fox’s production of Rent, one of the actors, Brennin Hunt, was injured. But 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,” Fox said Sunday afternoon in a statement.
The cast of Rent: Live, which includes Vanessa Hudgens, Tinashe, Kiersey Clemons and Valentina, have no understudies. With the nature of Hunt’s injury not immediately available and the level of his participation unclear, Fox is going to use some taped parts from Saturday’s dress rehearsal during Sunday’s live broadcast. That follows a similar backup plan the network had in 2016 when Fox would have been forced to have used taped outdoor scenes from its Grease Live dress rehearsal had it rained during its live broadcast. (The performance went off without issue.)
“We actually don’t have stand-ins,” Rent: Live director Alex Rudzinski told reporters, including The Hollywood Reporter, during the press day. (Rudzinski also directed Fox’s Grease Live.) “What we do have is a backup recording from the night [before]. The night before we do a full dress rehearsal on camera to tape, so should the metaphorical meteor hit the studio, we can switch to that backup recording, and it’s with an audience, and so there is a degree of backup there. Actually, I think on Grease we lost sound for eight seconds and we switched. I think we had to switch to the backup for eight seconds, and no one noticed.”
Stage director Michael Greif (Dear Evan Hansen) — who helmed Rent’s original New York Theatre Workshop and Broadway productions — told the more than 1,000 assembled for the dress rehearsal Saturday that Hunt had rolled his ankle and wanted to complete the performance, which had 15 minutes remaining when the injury occurred. According to reporters from THR who were present, Hunt’s injury occurred during the final commercial break and not while the actor-musician was onstage.
Hunt, a Nashville musician who previously competed on Fox’s The X Factor, returned to the stage following a nearly 30-minute delay. Executive producer Marc Platt and co-star Brandon Victor Dixon (who plays Tom) helped escort Hunt back onto the stage. Hunt was not putting any pressure on his right foot and declined to use crutches offered from a nearby production staffer. Producers shifted the stage direction for the final act so Hunt could sit atop a table placed at center stage — the main loft location in Rent — with his right foot propped up on a chair. Hunt completed the performance missing his right shoe as his ankle was swelling.
In keeping with Rent tradition, the central cast returned to the stage for a curtain call to sing the musical’s beloved “Seasons of Love.” The stars of the Fox live performance were then joined by Rent’s original Broadway cast, including Adam Pascal, who originated the role of Roger. Following the first verse of the song, Pascal and Rent: Live star Jordan Fisher (fellow male lead Mark) joined the injured Hunt near the table on the stage for the remainder of the song and instrumental outtro. Hunt appeared crestfallen and upset. He was helped off the stage by Platt and a stage manager.
“It’s funny, I’m having an easier time memorizing Jonathan Larson’s work than my own songs,” Hunt told THR during Rent’s press day. “I’ve been performing my own songs my whole life and somehow all these years I’ve messed up my own lyrics. So if that moment comes, I’ve gotten good at having a poker face and just kind of rolling. But I mean, we do this over and over and over again every day, so I think I’m not going to say I’m not going to mess up, but I hope I don’t.”
Based on Larson’s Tony-winning hit, Rent is a rock musical loosely based on La Boheme that tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York’s East Village in the days of the Bohemian Alphabet City and under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. Larson died suddenly the night before Rent’s off-Broadway debut. Julie Larson, sister of the late composer, fielded multiple offers over the years to bring her brother’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical to the small screen, but it wasn’t until super-producer Platt (La La Land, Fox’s Grease Live) approached her for the second time — about two or three years ago — that it finally felt like the timing was right.
“The experience of putting together this beautiful new production of my brother’s work, while emotional, has been truly joyous for all of us,” Larson said Sunday afternoon in a statement. “This new cast has embodied the spirit of the show from day one and they embraced Brennin with positive and uplifting love in his moment of need. Rent has always been about resilience and community. I speak from my heart when I say that we have a spectacular show for you tonight. We can’t wait for a new generation to experience Jonathan’s legacy.”