Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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What Happened When Brennin Hunt's Foot Broke at Rent's Dress Rehearsal

Brennin Hunt

LOS ANGELES — The Saturday dress rehearsal for Rent on the Fox Studio Lot in Los Angeles was going smoothly.

The event, which began at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, seemed like it would actually be finished by 8 p.m. It had to. The production had been timed for three hours, which was the length it would run on network television the following evening.  Although it was a rehearsal, an announcer explained beforehand that the performance would be taped — in the offhand chance that this footage would be needed at any point during the live broadcast.

Until the end, there were few hiccups in the production. Notably, audience members in the pit were screaming so loudly at the beginning of Rent that it overpowered the singers, an issue that had to be fixed in the only pickup shot of the evening.

A few of the performers seemed to be holding back at some points to save their energy for Sunday's live broadcast. But there were still many showstopping moments, including Vanessa Hudgens committing fully to Maureen's zany "Over the Moon" protest song, the tear-inducing reprise of "I'll Cover You" by Tom Collins (Brandon Victor Dixon) after Angel's death, and the company's energetic, dance-heavy "La Vie Bohème."

That said, no one audience member in the rehearsal could observe the full production. The square stage was bisected by set pieces placed in the center, meaning that much of what was seen could only be viewed from television sets that were hanging overhead.

And unlike the format of a theatrical production, which would have had one long intermission, this dress rehearsal was broken up by multiple, four- to five-minute "commercial breaks." There were no commercials shown to audience members in the Fox lot, but the length of time was set to the time of the ads and gave actors and production members time to reposition for the next televised segment. During each break, set pieces were rolled in and out. Costume changes were made.

It was this last commercial break — before the finale where Mimi (Tinashe) would seemingly die before coming back to life — that went overlong. The timer, displayed on television sets above the production, counted down to zero.  A "surprise" had been promised by the announcer for this last set. This would turn out to be the appearance of the original 1996 Rent cast, an act that would repeat itself on Sunday — but this was ultimately not the reason for the delay. 

As the minutes ticked by, restless members of the audience — many Hollywood insiders — began to check their watches and ask aloud for the cause of the pause. A few within eyeshot of this reporter attempted to leave, but they were told by Fox staffers standing at the exits that they could not until the final segment was performed and recorded. 

Finally, Marc Platt, an executive producer of the show, came onstage to inform audience members that actor Brennin Hunt, who portrayed Roger Davis in Rent, had "rolled" — "broke," by others' hearing —  his ankle backstage. Audience members gasped. Platt assured them that the show would go on and that Hunt would finish the production with some modifications.

Hunt's appearance after Platt's announcement took a few additional minutes. The Greatest Showman's Keala Settle was one of the actors who had been standing the length of this time onstage, holding a vintage phone in preparation of the final "voice mail" segment, when the parents of the main characters leave musical recorded messages. At one point, the crowd in the standing pit broke the silence by screaming their adoration for her.

When Hunt — a singer and alumni of season 1 of The X Factor, who recently transitioned into acting — finally reappeared, he crossed the stage with the help of two people, his arm swung around each of their shoulders. He plainly could not walk without assistance. The audience cheered him on as he took a place sitting on a table, from which he performed the final number, with his legs held up and out by a chair. Since Mimi was also lying on this table — and much of the energetic dancing had already occurred in previous scenes — the songs were not as awkward as they might have been.

Ultimately, Hunt's injury only caused about a 30-minute delay in the dress rehearsal. After his final scene, he was rushed to a hospital, where his foot was confirmed broken and his right leg was placed in a cast.

The footage shot on Saturday came in handy after all. They were used for the majority of the scenes during the "live" Sunday broadcast, save the finale with the cast reunion. As it turns out, there was no understudy. This turn of events led to some criticism from social media users and a trending #RentNotSoLive hashtag. Yet, Hunt gamely appeared alongside the cast in tandem with the broadcast for the Sunday taping — performing these scenes in a wheelchair while the previous footage was aired.

The sister of Rent's late creator Jonathan Larson, Julie Larson, said Sunday in a statement that the “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.”

Tags: television

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