Here’s what Kathleen and I decided, after we wiped our tears, yelled at each other, and squeezed hands with all of our new virtual bffs on the LiveBlog: there was the show we were supposed to see…and the show we actually saw. And she wrote about the former, and I’m writing about… well, this.
Which is especially weird, given that the show we DID see was 7/8ths the show we were supposed to see—or at least, the dress rehearsal version. Dress rehearsal, as you’ve heard screamed by every director you’ve ever worked with or just passed in a locker hallway, is supposed to be exactly the same as the Real Thing.
But it’s still… Dress. Herewith Twitter’s best efforts:
When the news broke that Brennin Hunt had been injured ‘but the show would go on’, nobody knew exactly what that meant. So when it started with the little ‘Previously Recorded’ bug, it was a letdown – that grew bigger after the cast announced in the first commercial break that ‘most’ of the show would be previously recorded.
Let’s go through viewers’ entirely legitimate questions:
“Why didn’t they have an understudy?!”
I mean – I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t have a great one (as actors all over Los Angeles who know every word wave frantically). Maybe they weren’t sure if they should pull the trigger. Brennin Hunt finished dress rehearsal Saturday night before going to the hospital, so it’s possible that they thought they were working with a sprain, and didn’t want to kick Hunt out of a job he might still be able to do, with some modifications.
Why didn’t they just broadcast the version that really happened? Once it became clear that Hunt was there and was singing, why wouldn’t they have broadcast him performing from the chair?
I’ll admit I was one of the people yelling about this on Twitter. We wanted to see live, and what was coming out of the theatre looked amazing and affecting (and as @Curly_McGee mentioned on Twitter, ‘sometimes people are in wheelchairs in real life!’) so why not?
I wasn’t in the room, but I think the answer is that changing the show to include Hunt, live, in a wheelchair he wasn’t used to, compromises so many different things. The choreography, obviously, but also the sets, and where certain numbers can happen – everything has to be on Roger’s level, so a lot of those sets have to go, or not be featured, and a lot of numbers can’t be staged the way they were, and at that point, you’re making the production the opposite of the live TV spectacle it was supposed to be, and it’s a stage play. That choice discards hundreds of people’s work in the process. Plus, he obviously could still sing in the chair, but it’s not going to be the same vocal performance as if his lungs and diaphragm were where they were supposed to be. So they kept the production, but lost the ‘Live’. And the energy and excitement, sadly.
I entertained the idea of cutting between pre-taped versions of numbers Roger was in, and live versions of the others – but he’s in almost all of the first act, so those would be taped, and you can’t have him not be in “La Vie Boheme” but you can’t compromise that number by having people carefully not jump on or around him lest they jar him further, so… we saw dress rehearsal.
The energy was low for sure - and there were none of the tiny bobbles that remind you of the combinations of nerves and adrenaline that mark these live performances.
I want to give a blanket note to all performers, everywhere, and say “give it all in dress rehearsal”, but for all we know, they were following orders. Case in point: Brandon Victor Dixon.
I love BVD, and he’s easily one of the most experienced on that stage, AND I love Collins, so it was a heartbreaker that his scenes weren’t popping onscreen.
But, late in the show, when he ripped our hearts apart in ‘I’ll Cover You’ (Reprise), (and the original too, actually), he was so stupendously strong that I couldn’t take my sobbing, broken, Kathleen-and-I-Facetimed-each-other-and-sobbed-wordlessly-before-hanging-up eyes off him.
To the point where I wondered whether he wasn’t told to hold back at the beginning of the show– to let the energy of Mark and Roger carry us along first, and then he could ‘blossom’ more as he met Angel, because otherwise he’d overpower them… because he’s Brandon Victor Dixon. Valentina was superb but … Brandon Victor Dixon.
This would have been a great plan if it was live, where everyone can calibrate and adjust. Instead, what we felt was a vacuum of energy, and of live TV risk…
Until she arrived.
Maureen appeared, in the body and blood of Vanessa Hudgens, and forcibly yanked this thing back to life.
You GUYS. When is she gonna get some respect? Why is she still an eyeroll? Don’t tell me it’s because of High School Musical, or did you not hear what Zac Efron’s up to lately? Hudgens performs her f-cking face off (just like she did in Grease! Live), yet somehow there’s still skepticism around her?
She’s once again giving it everything she’s got, even in ‘dress’ – her sections had unrehearsed elation that made you keep second-guessing whether we were still in the pre-tape section – and I say this as someone who has been exhausted by Maureen and her cow goings-on in the past.
Okay, she’s not Idina Menzel. Guess what? NOBODY IS. But Hudgens knocked this role out, making Maureen her own, and this show would have been utterly DOA without her.
Related: Because Hudgens was SO fantastic, all the headlines today will be about her, and less time will be spent on how solidly awesome Kiersey Clemons was as Joanne. It’s not as showy a role, and I saw some people complaining about some of the songs changed for her register, but she matches Hudgens’ energy every time and they seem completely evenly matched, and given that we’ve just established that Hudgens is a BEAST, that’s not nothing.
In short, this was an unfortunate series of events, and they probably should have pulled the cord on an understudy earlier. But I LOVE a rock in a crisis, and Vanessa Hudgens just threw down a challenge – who can create a role worthy of her? Because people who overlooked her are going to be kicking themselves, pretty much now.