Marc Platt Talks ‘Rent Live!’ And Honoring the Spirit of Jonathan Larson
You might never have seen Rent! but you’ll know its music or a lyric. The musical first opened on Broadway in 1996. Sadly before opening night, Jonathan Larson passed away. He never lived to see the success Rent became. Its most recent incarnation was the live TV production which featured Vanessa Hudgens, Tinashe, Brennin Hunt and Valentina. Executive Producer Marc Platt was responsible for bringing the Emmy-nominated show to TV screens earlier this year.
Platt stresses the importance of this production, to honor and pay homage to its creator Larson. Rent Live! Platt says, ” was a celebration of his life and spirit and his music.”
I talked to Platt about the important factors in bringing this much-loved cult status, iconic musical to TV.
Rent Live! Was incredible to experience. I got to do both, through the taping and then on TV. Talk about conceiving the production from stage to film to the live production?
One of the most exciting parts of Rent! is always the live performance of the music. It was always happening when it opened on Broadway. Even though it has a narrative, each night at the Nederlander felt like a happening, so we wanted to create an immersive environment that both told the story and had elements of a concert. That way, the audience felt fully integrated into the world of the lower East Side and the world of our performers. We wanted to create a space where our performers could tell the story as their characters and sing and perform to the audience as if we were in the midst of a happening.
In its journey from stage to film to TV, what was the most important thing to you with this production?
I think it was to retain the essence of Rent. We had a lot of the original creators involved. Obviously not Jonathan Larson because he passed, but we had his family, Michael Greif – the original director, the original costumer. We had so many people who had worked with Jonathan and were involved in Rent that we were able to delve into the book of the musical a little bit and make clarifications in ways that Michael Grief and Julie Larson helped. They would have done had Jonathan been alive as the show transferred. Making the story of inclusion, of loving people for the characters of their souls, for not judging people and bringing that to the forefront. For a piece set in the 90s, so much of it rings very true to today, certainly, the spirit of it does. That’s the most important thing. The second thing was to utilize the format of live television to integrate some thoughts about Jonathan Larson so that his presence was felt. We had background pieces to explain to his influence, and at the end, we really stepped out of the narrative with the whole company. We paid direct homage to Jonathan by explaining that he created a show that is remarkable in all of its achievement and reaches, but he didn’t live to see its opening success and that this evening was really for him. It was a celebration of his life and spirit and his music.
What was important in casting Rent Live for you?
It was about authenticity. Again, not only did I have the original director, I had the original casting director Bernie Telsey. He was able to find people of the right age and very young because that’s who Jonathan was writing about, his contemporaries. It was about finding a very young, diverse group of actors who felt very authentic to each of the characters they were portraying. That was the first important ingredient.
And then, it was about allowing them to create and perform the essence of the original characters, but each of them makes it their own. Hopefully, it was an extension of how Rent was originally created, and that’s why I assembled that team specifically.
What were the challenges of staging that particular production?
I think the challenge is always how do you make something, in a live telecast something that combines live theater with elements of cinema. How do you tell the story that tells the story, but also because it’s a live event, makes you feel the presence of a live audience all the time? That you feel the electricity that the performers get from a live audience. At the same time, how do you tell the narrative in a way that the camera allows you to be more focused than you can be on stage? You can feel Collin’s pain when Angel’s gone. You can understand the metaphor of Angel’s death. All those numbers were so well done in the way the camera is telling the specific storyline and the specific dynamics.
The challenge is finding that and giving enough energy, interacting with the audience and yet tellin the story. Also, the environment and allowing all of it; the audience, the positions, and the world that was created to appear in each frame.
Did you have a favorite Rent moment?
There were so many. The most memorable was the saddest, having to tell a couple of hundred people who had worked on it for many months that on the day of the telecast that we were going to use portions live and portions from the night before. Even though that was recorded, live. The audience is experiencing the same thing. The reason I reference it is because having some sadness occur right before an opening night if you will felt so eerily connected to the actual story of Rent when Jonathan Larson died the night before opening night.
That community,that you feel in Rent was, in fact, the community that existed off camera. That moment for everyone was emotional but also exciting. It was a community that bonded together. We stood in a circle. We hugged and we wished Brennin well. It was a moment not shared by the public, but in the narrative that is Rent, it was really connected to the past of Rent.
I think in particular, the Cover You reprise and to be able to articulate it that way with the picture of Angel there was a moment I’ll always remember. Of course, the unification of the original cast with the new cast, not just for the fun of the event that it created, but hopefully it conveyed the legacy of Jonathan Larson and that Rent lives on from its inception all the way to today and beyond.
What’s happening with Wicked? I can’t talk to you and not get an update.
The film is on its way. Materials are being written. The director is on board so we’re looking forward to starting the shoot sometime in the next year.