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Did You Catch All the Changes in Rent: Live?

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

Creators and producers for Rent: Live touted the Fox production in the lead-up to its January 27 premiere as the Rent we love on “steroids,” while also clarifying that edits would be made to fit network standards and cut for length. The claims proved more or less true with last night’s mostly pre-taped presentation. While it’s an addition to the live televised musical canon that introduced a whole new generation to Jonathan Larson’s famously unfinished musical, die-hard Rentheads met such changes with skepticism and some downright disappointment. Below, we break down the 26 most significant edits and lyric changes from the original 1996 musical to last night’s Rent: Live.

1. Angel’s gender identity.
Aside from “La Vie Boheme” retaining the “Brothers!” gag while Angel and Collins share a kiss in the middle of the café, last night’s Rent addressed one of fans’ most prominent qualms with the original and established Angel (played by Valentina) as a decidedly trans or nonbinary character rather than a drag queen. It began in “You Okay Honey?” when Angel (dressed in more masculine-presenting attire) introduced herself to Collins (Brandon Victor-Dixon) as Angel Dumott Schunard, adding, “At least that’s who I’m going for this weekend,” a distinction not found in the original script. Her identity was further brought to the fore in the lead-in to “I’ll Cover You” when she asked Collins if he liked her outfit while in full drag. He said yes, and that he liked the “other one,” too, referring to what she was wearing the night they met. She responded, “I think this is the one, Collins. I finally feel like me.” From there on out, Collins and others referred to her with female pronouns, most notably in “Goodbye Love” and in the eulogies before “I’ll Cover You (Reprise),” but more on those later.

2. The musical’s opening line.
Any good Rent fan knows its opening expository verse, sung by Mark (Jordan Fisher): “December 24, 9 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. From here on in I shoot without a script — see if anything comes of it (instead of my old shit).” While it makes sense that producers here would have to skirt around “shit” for the Fox live stream, last night’s opening lines took a heavy edit and changed the year Rent is set altogether: “December 24, 9 p.m., 1991. I start to shoot my latest film today — see if I’ve got anything to say.”

3. “Life Support” and a history lesson.
Many online were speculating why producers would change the year from 1989 to 1991, but the reasoning became clear when in the lead-in to “Life Support,” Mark offered a brief history of the HIV/AIDS crisis not found in the original production. He lists statistics from the end of 1991 that emphasize the impact of the disease on an entire generation of young men and women: There were 206,563 reported cases nationwide, and by that time, over 31,000 people had died in New York City.

4. Keala Settle’s counselor goes from Paul to Cy.
As previously announced, The Greatest Showman breakout and Broadway vet Keala Settle had a supporting turn in the show, most notably taking on the HIV/AIDS support group’s lead counselor. In the original production, the role’s played by a man named Paul, but here, Settle played a woman named Cy. The character was named after Cynthia O’Neal, co-founder alongside Mike Nichols of Friends in Deed, a nonprofit benefiting HIV/AIDS-effected New Yorkers.

5. Life expectancy changed from three years to six months.
That same “Life Support” song had one of the production’s more baffling lyric changes when Gordon sings about finding “some of what you teach suspect, because I’m used to relying on intellect.” Instead of his verse ending with, “Because reason says I should’ve died three years ago,” last night the lyric was changed to, “Because reason says I should’ve died six months ago.”

6. Benny doesn’t say poo-poo.
When friend-turned-landlord Benny (Mario) comes calling for Mark and Roger’s (Brennin Hunt) rent toward the beginning of the show, he dreams up a possible better future for the three of them and urges them to think twice about what he’s offering. “You wanna produce films and write songs? You need somewhere to do it,” he sings. “It’s what we used to dream about; think twice before you poo-poo it.” Last night, however, changed to be: “You wanna produce films and write songs? You need somewhere to perfect it. It’s what we used to dream about; think twice before you reject it.”

7. Mark finds new ways to be self-deprecating.
Originally, while Mark is on his way to help Maureen (Vanessa Hudgens) with her sound equipment, he tells the audience to get ready for a “close-up on Mark’s nosedive.” But Fox’s Rent put a different spin on his self-deprecation: “Tonight’s show is in mortal danger due to technical difficulties. Can Maureen’s pathetic ex save the day?”

8. “Tango Maureen” got super weird.
Here’s an edit that was necessary for the networks: In the original, there’s a repeated bit in “Tango Maureen” where Mark echoes Joanne’s (Kiersey Clemons) concerns with a certain … emphasis. “This is weird,” she says. “It’s weird,” he agrees. “Very weird,” she says. “Fucking weird,” he responds. Same with “cheated”: “She cheated.” “She cheated.” “Maureen cheated.” “Fucking cheated.” Last night’s production changed the first “fucking” to “super weird” and the second to “yeah she cheated.”

9. The homeless woman is a little more polite.
Similarly to the F-bombs in “Tango Maureen,” Mark’s run-in with the homeless lady where she asks him, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” and calls him a “motherfucking artist,” had to be brought down to TV14 for Fox: “Who the hell do you think you are?” she asks instead, and then simply scoffs “artists” with a knowing sneer.

10. New York City is still the center of the universe.
In the beginning of Collins’ ode to warmer locales and brighter days, “Santa Fe,” Angel has this memorable bit: “New York City: center of the universe. Times are shitty, but I’m pretty sure they can’t get worse.” Times might be shitty, but they were edited last night to be more palatable: “Times ain’t pretty, but I’m pretty sure they can’t get worse.”

11. Santa Fe wasn’t the only Santa getting a change.
The memorably chaotic street scene, “Christmas Bells,” features a group of homeless New Yorkers singing and mourning the state of their own holiday. “No sleigh bells; no Santa Claus; no yule log; no tinsel; no holly; no hearth; no Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.” In a change that’s likely meant to be more more inclusive to the “holiday” spirit rather than the “Christmas” spirit, Fox’s Rent switched out “no Santa Claus” for “no candy canes.” This number also featured a standout gag where Angel, while looking through thrift clothing on the street, dramatically turns her nose up at the iconic maroon and blue sweater Mark wears in the original stage production.

12. Fox would rather people puke than piss.
The next few lyric changes are courtesy of the fan-favorite, ten-minute long “La Vie Boheme.” First is Benny’s slimy intro and walking advertisement for gentrification where he asks his old friends if they “really want a neighborhood where people piss on your stoop every night?” Only last night was changed to “puke on your stoop,” which was apparently deemed more appealing.

13. “La Vie Boheme” stayed sexy without dildos.
While the provocative number kept in lyrics that toed the line of network decency (shout-out to “faggots, lezzies, dykes, cross-dressers, too!”), it did switch out “dildos” for “latex” in Mimi and Angel’s dueted verse. “To handcrafted beers made in local breweries. To yoga, to yogurt, to rice and beans and cheese. To leather, to latex, to curry vindaloo. To huevos rancheros and Maya Angelou.”

14. Bohemia is still showing signs of life.
Mark’s retort to Benny and the ensuing introduction of the café’s cast of characters was also changed last night. “This just in, the mythical land of Bohemia, once believed to be dead, is now showing shocking signs of life,” Mark said last night, a line not found in the original script. From there, rather than introducing Mimi, Mark, Maureen, Angel, and others for their inabilities hold erections, handcuff dances in bubble wrap, and Native American tribal chants, the Fox cast was introduced as leaders within Bohemia. Mimi Marquez had a lifetime appointment as Minister of National Security and BDSM; Mark Cohen was the secretary of State; Maureen was the reigning queen of Bohemia; and Valentina was the beacon of hope in the darkest of days.

15. Meatless balls were 86ed.
The role of the waiter was cut down substantially in Rent: Live, and his famous listing of the group’s order (including meatless balls, that taste the same, if you close your eyes) was cut out altogether.

16. There was no straight line during “Seasons of Love.”
Now here’s an edit that really got under Rentheads’ skin. Act II iconically opens with the entire cast standing in a line at the lip of the stage, single spotlights overhead each of them. There, they sing “Seasons of Love” before getting back to the action of the musical. Rent: Live, however, had the second act begin seated in a support group, again with Keala Settle leading (“Just take it day by day, hour by hour,” she says comfortingly). “Seasons of Love” is then sung from the “Life Support” set and from sporadic cast placements throughout the theater. It ends with Settle singing on a staircase and the entire cast looking up at her from the stage floor.

17. There’s always time for a diss to New Jersey.
The top of Act II then leads into “Happy New Year,” which finds our heroes ringing in 1992. When Maureen shows up in a skintight catsuit, Mark quips, “You can take the girl out of Hicksville, but you can’t take the Hicksville out of the girl.” Last night was instead changed to, “You can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the girl.”

18. Making light of slavery doesn’t age well.
The ever-fighting Maureen and Joanne are at it again in the New Years scene, but Joanne eventually forgives Maureen when she promises to be her “slave”: “I lose control, but I can learn to behave. Give me one more chance; let me be your slave.” Such phrasing admittedly reads a little tone-deaf in 2019 between an interracial couple, and last night’s production amended it to: “I promise I’ll be good. Give me a chance and I’ll do what I should.”

19. Wouldn’t you rather dance at the Clit Club?
The beginning of another fan-favorite, “Take Me or Leave Me,” finds Maureen and Joanne arguing while working on Maureen’s new show. “I didn’t stay out dancing at the Clit Club because you wanted to go home!” she shouts, trying to reassure Joanne that her actions aren’t to spite her. The Clit Club was deemed a bit too graphic a visual for prime time, and Fox changed the club to “Pandora’s Box.” At least clever wordplay is maintained!

20. Angel’s eulogies are changed.
Arguably the most moving scene of Rent, no matter the production, is the “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” at Angel’s funeral after dying of HIV/AIDS. It begins with the eulogies, where Mimi recalls Angel’s run-in with a skinhead and Mark recalls her helping a group of tourists in the city. Rent: Live added two eulogies, one from Keala Settle’s Cy (“Thank you dear angel for lighting our way with style and grace and love.”) and another from Joanne, where she recalled how Angel would ask her for legal advice because she wanted to help those in need (“She wanted to help, and she always did.”). While Mark kept his awkward misgendering slip-up and corrected himself to “she,” he did express that the tourists had “never spoken to a person like her before in their lives,” whereas the original line says that they’d never spoken to a “drag queen.” This scene also changed Angel’s fashion designs being sold in “the Gap” (per Maureen) to being sold at “Saks.”

21. Mark accepts BuzzLine job while leaving Angel’s funeral.
Before “Halloween” and as Angel’s funeral is wrapping up, last night’s Rent: Live found Mark calling Alexi Darling on a payphone to tell her that he’s interested in working with her. In the original production, he’s already signed the contracts and is employed by the gossip news company at this point. The phone call was made all the more desperate in the Fox production when Mark agrees to leave the funeral and meet Alexi for an assignment in 20 minutes, a back-and-forth that isn’t in the original. Then in the lead-in to “Goodbye Love,” Mark slipped in his announcement to Roger, “I took that job at BuzzLine.”

22. You’re full of it!
“Goodbye Love” has always been a heartbreaking, anger-drenched group quarrel between lovers old and new. It’s a feeling especially captured in the way Mimi yells, “Don’t commit, you’re full of shit!” Of course, you can’t say that on network TV, and last night was changed to, “Don’t commit, you’re full of it!”

23. Collins maintains female pronouns for Angel.
Again in an effort to fully establish Angel as a female-identifying character, Collins interrupted the bickering of “Goodbye Love” last night to express his sorrow: “I can’t believe she’s gone; I can’t believe you’re going,” he says, turning to Roger. In the original, he says of Angel, “I can’t believe he’s gone.”

24. BuzzLine can’t catch a break.
We know how Mark has felt about working for BuzzLine the entire show, but not necessarily how his friends felt — until the rest of “Goodbye Love,” that is. In a private, sung conversation between Mark and Roger, Mark expresses niceties of how “there are great restaurants out West” before questioning Roger about his reasons for leaving. Roger turns on Mark, though, and accuses him of hiding in his work: “But who, Mark, are you? ‘Mark has got his work,’ they say. ‘Mark lives for his work,’ and, ‘Mark’s in love with his work.’ Mark hides in his work.” Last night Roger slipped in an extra jab to BuzzLine: “They say, ‘Mark lives for his work,’ and, ‘Mark’s in love with his work’ — important work like BuzzLine! Mark hides in his work.” Another change comes in the same interaction when Roger says, “You pretend to create and observe when you really detach from feeling alive.” Last night, he instead said, “You say you know how we all feel when you really detach from feeling alive.”

The live production’s rendition of “Goodbye Love” also cut this exchange from Mark and Roger: “Hey, for someone who’s always been let down, who’s heading out of town? For someone who longs for a community of his own, who’s with his camera, alone?”

25. Mimi is more reluctant to go to rehab.
Before her temporary death and rebirth with “Your Eyes” at the end of the musical, Mimi first goes to rehab at the behest of Benny (who she’s currently sleeping with) and Mark. While her decision to go to rehab is presented more as a personal choice in the original production, last night’s stint was a result of insistence from Benny. Instead of Mimi asking Benny if he could pay for it (“Could you?”), Mimi was hesitant at Benny’s generosity (“I could never.”)

26. Final superfluous cuts.
To make the three-hour runtime on Fox, Rent: Live simply couldn’t fit it all in. The main cuts that were made to the script were the expository, one-on-one conversation scenes between Mark and Roger and other pairs; the voicemails from their parents were cut short (“Are you screening your calls? It’s mom.”); but ultimately, these cuts were due to time and didn’t take much away from the heart of the show.

Did You Catch All the Changes in Rent: Live?