February 1, 2019 at 12:21 pm PST | by Billy Masters
‘Rent’ wasn’t live and Michael Jackson is back

The much ballyhooed ‘Rent: Live’ was a bit less live than planned. (Photo Courtesy Rent Live)

“Kevin, you’re not being attacked. You have to acknowledge what went on and acknowledge the pain of other people. That’s all anybody’s asking for. That’s it.” –Terry Crews on Kevin Hart’s assertion that he’s being attacked. 

As if…

In about two weeks, your beloved Billy will turn 50. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “Only 50? It seems as if he’s been around forever!” There’s a deeper reason mortality is on my mind stemming from my time as a student at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC. Before all those “Law & Order” shows, “Unsolved Mysteries” employed scores of actors in NYC – including many of my classmates. Most were cast as corpses in dramatic reenactments, and I wanted in. 

Despite numerous submissions, I never even got an audition and developed a complex. 

Could it be that nobody in New York City wanted to see me dead? I got my answer a few years later when an ex considered taking out a hit on me – but that’s neither hither nor yon. The point is, “Unsolved Mysteries” is poised for a reboot courtesy of Netflix. So I once again live in hope of being a victim of a violent crime. But the way things are going, I may simply die of old age.

I am not a devotee of “Big Brother” but, I must confess, I got hooked when my pals Marissa Jaret Winokur and Ross Mathews competed on “Celebrity Big Brother” last year. When I saw this year’s crop of “celebrities”, I knew I’d tune in. 

After week one, here are my thoughts. First, in what other group would Ryan Lochte be considered “the brains”?  I was perplexed when he kept talking about wanting to evict Diana.  Who the hell is Diana? Turns out, he meant Dina – as in Lohan! Then Ryan formed a ride-or-die alliance with our own Jonathan Bennett – who ultimately took the fall for Lochte’s bad decisions. But here’s the most important thing I learned – who knew Bennett has a severe issue with flatulence? 

That’s the real value of these shows. Sitting at home, you think you’d want to be Bennett’s boyfriend. But I bet after one night of him farting away in bed, you’d be done! 

The nightly “After Dark” edition of the show frequently finds the celebs playing endless hours of poker. When Ryan described Jonathan’s hand as a “possible straight,” Bennett quipped, “Not since college.” Bada-bing!

There’s been lots of buzz about Michael Jackson

First was news of “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” a stage musical based on his life that will debut at the Nederlander Theatre in Chicago on Oct. 29. Then there’s the new documentary that premiered at Sundance. “Leaving Neverland” clocks in at four hours and shines a light on the accusations of Jackson sexually abusing young boys. There are two main subjects. 

James Safechuck says that Jackson often gave him jewelry in return for “engaging in sexual acts” – one of which was a wedding ring he was given during a “mock wedding!”  Choreographer Wade Robson says that Jackson once told him, “You and I were brought together by God” — and then tried to anally penetrate him when he was 14! 

Striking back, the Jackson camp points out that both Robson and Safechuck previously testified that Michael never did anything inappropriate. Since then, both filed unsuccessful lawsuits against the estate. Oh, did I mention that Jackson allegedly called semen “duck butter?”  Based on that alone, I’m calling this a “must see.” 

Thank God HBO will air it later this year.

The much ballyhooed “Rent: Live” was a bit less live than planned. Toward the end of Saturday’s dress rehearsal, Brennin Hunt broke his foot, thus thwarting most of the live telecast.  And that’s why dress rehearsals are recorded – just in case. 

So, the Fox telecast featured the cast saying, “We have rallied together to rework the final act so that all of us – including Brennin and the original Broadway cast of ‘Rent’ – can perform it for you…live.” Ultimately, only the final 15 minutes of the telecast was live – although the show was performed live for the in-studio audience – with Brennin in a wheelchair. As to the original cast, they came out and sang the reprise of “Seasons of Love,” which, to be charitable, was more than enough.

Ultimately, the major star was the show itself; and the production. Set on a sprawling soundstage, the camera work integrated the live audience seamlessly. While the cast was uniformly adequate for a TV adaptation miked within an inch of its life, I’ll focus on the positives and send kudos out to two people. First, the fabulous Valentina as Angel. The role was performed spectacularly, even if the singing was undeniably weak. The all-around MVP (including vocals) was Brandon Victor Dixon as Tom Collins. All in all, I expected nothing less – or, for that matter, more.

Could it be that a star of stage, (small) screen, and song has had just a wee too much plastic surgery? And on one so young. Alas, for some people, it’s perfection or nothing at all.  While the body of work is flawless in that cloned way, the face seems somewhat frozen. Below the belt…well, the first cut was definitely not the deepest.

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