Broadway is thriving and making its way to a national audience via television. Since 2013, a number of popular musicals have seen their way to TV networks attracting a massive viewing audience and numerous awards. Joining the ranks of Hairspray, The Wiz, Grease, and many others was this year’s Rent Live on 20th Century Fox. Creating a production such as this requires a “city” of talented professionals; individuals like Harshita Reddy.
As a production designer on films like Moth and her work on the upcoming Cherish the Day for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network, Reddy has exhibited the inherent talent/honed through dedication that is a part of Rent Live’s success. This televised performance of the 1996 Tony Award-winning Musical Rent was awarded two Primetime Emmys (Outstanding Production Design for a Variety Special and Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Special). Harshita can confirm that a production like Rent Live is equal parts daunting, exciting, and rewarding.
Art Director Adam Rowe was key in bringing Harshita aboard for Rent Live. Having been impressed with her work on the Golden Globe nominated NBC TV series The Good Place, Rowe was assured that she would contribute greatly to this adventurous endeavor. This live televised event was filmed on 30,000 square foot, multi-level, 360 degree set to properly recreate Lower Manhattan’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City.
Reddy injects, “In my opinion, we managed to achieve a great balance between the grungy, greasy look of Alphabet city in the ’90s and the vibrant aesthetic that is expected of a Broadway musical. The idea of having an audience in and all around the set made a very engaging and entertaining show, allowing the ensemble cast to interact with their fans during their performances.
The use of multiple levels allowed the director and choreographer to create some stunning sequences and dance numbers. This also allowed the DP to get amazing multiple long single takes for the audience watching from their home. All these elements combined to create a very unique and extravagant set that was very refreshing yet true to the essence of the show Rent.”
Recreating an authentic aesthetic of the 90’s scene of this neighborhood was fueled by a great deal of research on Harshita’s part. In coordination with Adam Rowe, she worked with the graphics designer in fabricating and printing graphics for all the departments including art paint, set dec, and props. From flooring to procuring set pieces with a 90s aesthetic, nothing was too minute a detail in her approach to bringing this setting to life.
Reddy created a model that was used extensively throughout the show for design presentations by the many different production teams to finalize their concepts. She notes that seeing the actual set in its final form on the set two months prior to filming was a reminder that the even the smallest idea can progress into a massive creation.
One might think that with most of her work preceding a live televised event such as this, Harshita would be coasting during the performance without a care but you’d be dead wrong. With a background in film and architecture, this “theater meets television” event was a vastly new experience for her.
Constantly adventurous and thriving on new challenges, Reddy relates, “At first, I was definitely nervous and was constantly trying to decode the theatre jargon my colleagues were using. But I soon got the hang of it. The whole aspect of a live telecast, the transformations during the commercial break were fascinating. Working on the show has opened up a whole new world of theatre and live telecast for me. I have a newfound appreciation towards these crafts.
Multiple departments and hundreds of people worked day and night to meet the deadline. I remember the director saying ‘Opening night is the closing night’ so there is no room for error. It all comes down to three hours with no retakes or reshoots. Even Broadway plays have multiple shows to recover from any mistakes but not with a single night Live telecast like this one. Being a part of this was as thrilling as the incredibly positive response the show received.”