A Broadway Star And Director On 'Rent: Live' It's Tuesday. Sam talks to 'Hamilton' star Brandon Victor Dixon and Broadway director Michael Greif about bringing the groundbreaking 1996 Broadway musical 'Rent' to live television — January 27 at 8 PM EST on FOX. They discuss the difference between stage and television performance, what made 'Rent' such an influential musical, and that time Brandon Victor Dixon spoke to Vice President-elect Mike Pence after a performance of 'Hamilton.' Email the show at samsanders@npr.org or tweet @NPRItsBeenAMin with your feedback.
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A Broadway Star And Director On 'Rent: Live'

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A Broadway Star And Director On 'Rent: Live'

A Broadway Star And Director On 'Rent: Live'

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SAM SANDERS, HOST:

What - this is about two weeks until show day?

BRANDON VICTOR DIXON AND MICHAEL GREIF: Yes.

SANDERS: Is the rehearsal schedule just epically crazy?

DIXON AND GREIF: Yes (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: From NPR, I'm Sam Sanders. IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. My two guests this episode are getting ready for a big show. It's a show you may have heard about. It's a show I personally love. Here, I'll give you a hint - a number - 525,600 minutes. "Rent," y'all. I'm talking about "Rent." My guests today - director Michael Greif and actor Brandon Victor Dixon, two members of the team bringing "Rent: Live" to your TV very soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEASONS OF LOVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.

SANDERS: This Sunday, January 27, Fox is bringing the groundbreaking 1996 Broadway musical to live TV. I know, my ex-theater kids, my theater lovers listening, y'all already know a lot about "Rent." For the rest of you, "Rent" is a musical. It hit Broadway in 1996. It was written by Jonathan Larson. It won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, the Tony Award for best musical. The musical is all about this group of starving artists struggling to live and love through the AIDS crisis in late 1980s New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEASONS OF LOVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) All about love, all about love.

SANDERS: And this is not an understatement, folks, when I say that "Rent" changed the very notion of what a musical could be. It was "Hamilton" before there was "Hamilton." And Michael told me it was so influential to an entire generation of fans.

MICHAEL GREIF: I think we go to the theater to see ourselves, and I think a lot of people saw themselves reflected in an honest way and in a real human way.

SANDERS: Michael is directing this new "Rent: Live." But he also directed that original Broadway production of "Rent" in 1996. And Brandon, who stars in the new show, he is a Broadway veteran, as well. Brandon recently played Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar Live" on NBC. He is in the Starz drama series "Power." And you might know him from his time as Aaron Burr in "Hamilton." Brandon was the cast member who famously addressed then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence after a production of the show back in November 2016.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRANDON VICTOR DIXON: And, Vice President-elect Pence, I see you're walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There's nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There's nothing to boo here. We're all here sharing a story of love.

There were people who were booing or cheering the vice president-elect at the time when he came in. And also there were people who booed or cheered my addressing him and what I was saying.

SANDERS: We'll hear more about that moment later in this episode. We'll also talk about what it takes to do a Broadway show on TV, why TV musicals get such a bad rap and why that might be changing. All right. Let's get to it. Here is my chat with Michael Greif and Brandon Victor Dixon.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: You know, we should pause right now to actually ID all of our voices clearly. When you have three men in one interview, it can be confusing. Listeners, I'm Sam Sanders. The two of you, tell folks who you are, so they know each voice.

GREIF: I'm Michael Greif, and I'm the director of "Rent: Live."

DIXON: And I'm Brandon Victor Dixon, and I play Tom Collins in "Rent: Live."

SANDERS: How many hours a day are you guys at rehearsal?

GREIF: The company's there for about eight hours, which means they're really there for about nine hours, getting ready.

DIXON: Yes.

GREIF: I think some of our company members are there for many more hours than that.

DIXON: But our creative's there for much longer.

GREIF: Yeah. And I tend to have a lot of meetings before and after all the time that the actors are there. So I love my new home at the Fox Studios.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Five days a week or seven days a week?

GREIF: Five days a week. But they tend to keep us busy on those other two days a week, as well.

DIXON: Yes, yes. It's a full-service production.

GREIF: I'm sure. You know, it's - I don't know. I could hear some people - or see some people hearing this saying, it's one musical. A lot of y'all have done this before. Like, do you need - like, do you ever say, we're rehearsing too much?

DIXON: No. I mean - certainly not with this project and this process. You know, part of it, sure, it is one musical, and it is a musical that is written and is known, but it's a new format. It's a hybrid of media. And so there are new challenges. There are new things to figure out. And also we all need time to find the story and the heart of the piece together. You know, you're still making something new.

GREIF: And it's so important that this group, that the characters in this musical, really feel like a family. It feels like they know each other well. So all of the time that we're spending, I think it really - you'll see the rewards of all this time that we're spending together, putting the pieces this together.

DIXON: Absolutely.

SANDERS: I read that when you were directing the original "Rent" on Broadway in, like, '96 - because you were the director of that first musical - you would unite the team, have everyone start with singing "Seasons Of Love" together as a family.

GREIF: Yes.

SANDERS: I start crying even thinking about it. Oh, my God. That is just...

GREIF: I'm a little moved by that, as well. We had to do things a little different this time. It was actually - the wonderful Keala Settle, who's actually the soloist in "Seasons Of Love," didn't join us for a number of weeks. But I think Brandon will say that it was pretty special on that day that she did join us...

DIXON: Absolutely.

GREIF: ...Along with some other spectacular new company members who joined just a few weeks ago. I think he felt, oh, our family's now complete, and we did, in fact, sing "Seasons" first on that day.

SANDERS: Were there tears?

DIXON: Oh, absolutely.

(LAUGHTER)

GREIF: You want to, like, cut right to the chase?

(LAUGHTER)

DIXON: It was definitely an emotional experience, and it continues to be. Every aspect of this show is coming to life in very emotional ways for us because of the group that's been assembled, and the care that all the creatives are putting into this new manifestation of the show.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, one of the things I have thought about a lot with y'all doing this live production is that when you do a thing on Broadway, you go in knowing, the opening night, there's going to be some kinks, but then you'll work it out the following nights and keep perfecting the show as you perform it over and over again. There's only one shot, like, in the Eminem sense of that phrase. Like, what are you most afraid of messing up on that one night that keeps you up at night and you rehearse over and over?

GREIF: I'm going to speak for Brandon first, and then he can tell us about what keeps him up at night.

(LAUGHTER)

GREIF: But I feel like there's a tremendous excitement about doing it only once. And I believe that this format, this live format especially, when an audience is very much a part of that format, which they will be in in this "Rent: Live" production, I feel like you'll get a real sense of a concert, a once-in-a-lifetime event. And whatever happens, happens. You know, it's like that - there's also a great security in knowing that, in a live event, in a live performance, anything that happens is going to be OK. It's all going to be about the way people cope, people recover, people triumph over. So I just think it adds to the live-ness. And I'm really, really excited about that.

DIXON: Yeah. I often tell people when I do a thing, no matter how they felt about it, particularly when the things get really positive responses, I think, you know, I - pretty much nothing I've ever done has been perfect, but it seems to have been right or effective, and that's all I look for. You know, what we do is not going to be perfect, but as long as we put our hearts and our efforts towards it, it will be what it's supposed to be.

SANDERS: Yeah. Are there certain technical things that the production can do to help with whatever mistakes might happen that night? Like, is there a delay? Can you pan to a different camera if you need to? Like, are those things built in?

GREIF: Yes, there are - there's certainly a number of camera shots built in. So yes, certainly. And we have an extraordinary, extraordinary camera director who's working so closely with us. We're in constant contact about what story we're trying to tell, what are the important close-ups, what moment do I get to convey, you know, in a way, on the small screen that I've never been able to convey before? And I have such unbelievable trust in Alex Rudzinski that I know that there's, like, a great, big safety net in his experience and his abilities.

SANDERS: Alex is who?

DIXON: And I will say - Alex is the camera director for our production.

SANDERS: Got you.

DIXON: And Alex was also the camera director for "Jesus Christ Superstar." And I will say...

SANDERS: Which you were in.

DIXON: Yes, which I was in. And I'm unfamiliar with all of the technical details behind the scenes, but I will say, after we did our Saturday run-through with a full audience in "Jesus Christ Superstar," I did...

SANDERS: Oh, you had an audience for the run-through?

DIXON: Oh, yeah. No, we - you know, because we do it at least once just to get the full, vested experience of what it is. And, you know, after doing it that first time, I felt a great level of security in - you know, almost as if, you know, half the battle was over.

SANDERS: Yeah. For both of you, what is the biggest difference in the way you rehearse for a production that will only happen one time versus putting something on Broadway that you will do for months?

GREIF: For me, it's a lot about trusting what the camera can do and the story that the camera can tell. There's a precision and a real urgency about every moment that the camera really picks up, and you can't lie about that so...

DIXON: I think, as a performer, I think the only real difference is in recognizing - like you said before, we are - usually with a live show, we're going to have an opening, and then we'll have a series of previews where we get to really investigate what we've put on our feet. And the thing I have to remember here is that it's - you know, you need to investigate it now. Find it now.

(LAUGHTER)

GREIF: You know, and Brandon was an unbelievable help to me. I actually haven't said this to him. I'm saying it to him with a lot of people listening. You know, his recognition of I've got to be investigating it now, I mean, he really set the bar in rehearsal for, like, showing up and really, like, taking every moment extremely seriously. And this actually...

SANDERS: Tell me how. Give me an example of that.

GREIF: Well, you know, just as soon as we learned a song, to be able to commit to that song completely emotionally, to take every choice as far as he could take that choice, you know, and that sort of sets a tone for the rest of the people in rehearsal to think, oh, OK, I got to show up with my A game.

DIXON: Now (laughter).

GREIF: I mean, we're really - we're really doing it. It's, like, day three, but we're really doing it. So that has been an enormous help to me. And by the time we're here, two weeks away, a lot of this play really feels lived in. You know, these guys feel like they know each other and like - and they know how to evoke the stuff that each one of these songs and scenes requires of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: All right. Time for a break. When we come back, Brandon and Michael tell me why they think TV musicals get a bad rap nowadays. And later, Brandon talks about what it was like that night when he talked to Mike Pence from the stage of "Hamilton." BRB.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: The thing about "Rent" is that it's set in a very specific time and place, but in many ways, it feels timeless. Like, I mean, this thing is set in New York City, 1989. Struggling artists, love, the HIV-AIDS crisis. Art, dreams, disappointments. Like, do you think that audiences seeing it now for the first time will have it resonate with them as strongly?

GREIF: Absolutely. I think it's important that we understand that particular moment in time because I think it affects the characters' psychology so fully. Like, their HIV diagnoses meant something very specifically...

SANDERS: It was a death sentence, almost.

GREIF: ...In '91 - yes, that death sentence - that it doesn't necessarily mean today. And I don't mean to say in any way that people aren't still struggling and that we aren't having way too many people dying of AIDS still. But it's very important that we understand, you know, specifically how Roger and Mimi and Collins and Angel and other characters in the play are dealing with that psychology. On the other hand, so many of "Rent's" themes - which are about choosing a family, finding that the way you measure your life is through the way in which you're able to give love and to feel love, you receive the love that you put out, the feeling of worthiness - I think one of the most interesting aspects of "Rent" is how Roger and Mimi in some ways feel unworthy of life. They feel as if they don't deserve to continue to live.

And even without that death sentence hanging over them, I know we are in a crisis in terms of how many young people in our country now are feeling that sense of worthlessness. They don't feel a purpose. They don't see it. And we have to find ways in which we're telling people, especially young people, that they are worthy of love, that they deserve to be here. So I mean, those themes, which have always sort of been, I think, what has made "Rent" so important to so many generations, you know, they resound today as fully as they've ever needed to be heard.

SANDERS: Also the songs are just damn good.

DIXON: (Laughter) Right.

GREIF: And the songs are damn good (laughter).

SANDERS: They are.

GREIF: You know? And you come back to that and, you know, I forget that. And then I'm in the presence of those songs, and I'm like, wow, Jonathan. I mean, that is really, really, really, really a great melody. And it's the appropriate melody, and it's the right voice for that character. Great, great music.

SANDERS: You know, one thing that is obviously still so true - as true as it was then, it's true now - is, like, the rent is still too damn high. Like...

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: ...People can't pay their rent. And, you know, what I love about "Rent" is that it talks about this idea of a creative class that can't afford to be creative. And it feels like it's even more visible now in this era of really stark income inequality, where, like, it seems like everyone is just kind of always struggling.

DIXON: No. Absolutely. I think the thing for me is, when you talk about, you know, the rent is still damn high, also the cost of loving oneself can also still be too damn high. You know, the cost of taking care of oneself or one's loved ones is too damn high. The cost of having the mental and emotional bandwidth to think about what, you know, who the - what the people you have voted for to run your country. Or to have the bandwidth to think about these things, the rent is too damn high, you know?

And I think those are the other elements that I think are relevant about our show and powerful about our show, is that you see people fighting to remind each other that the love we give ourselves and each other is of the utmost importance, even amongst all these struggles, these elements that are pressurizing our lives and our environments and pulling us apart.

SANDERS: Yeah. And also it's just good, in the midst of all those pressures, to be able to take - what, two, two and half hours, and watch a really fun musical on TV. (Laughter).

GREIF: You know?

DIXON: It will be nice to sit down and watch a musical together.

GREIF: And this version has some spectacular, spectacular choreography by Sonya Tayeh, as well.

DIXON: Absolutely.

SANDERS: OK. So there's some different choreography than we might have seen in the Broadway production. How did you create that and, like, what are you trying to speak to with that choreography?

GREIF: Just having the opportunity to reinvestigate some of the material in ways. I actually met Sonya a couple of years ago. I'd seen her work on television. But Sonya started choreographing a number of plays, some plays off Broadway that I got to see. And I thought she had such an incredible sense of how a tribe could get created. This was a play called "The Lucky Ones" that I loved so much. And then I think Sonya actually reached out to me and said, I want you to know that I'm a big fan of "Rent." And that moved me so incredibly to know that so many of the spectacular theater artists that are working today have been influenced, been inspired by "Rent."

I've heard that over the years, and it really - it moves me tremendously. And to have Jason Sherwood - our great production designer, set designer - also, you know, when I got to talk to him, like, let me know, like, what a big "Rent"-head he was, you know, the love for the material. And the opportunity for some of these people who haven't had the opportunity to work on it before has really exploded our process in a fantastic way.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, there is - I was reading up a lot about the resurgent TV musical over the last few years. And one of the things I thought could be a challenge for both of you in doing this work is that the general writers set and critics set, the way they talk about the very idea of musicals on TV is almost dismissive and sneering. Do you ever feel that?

DIXON: I think the one thing that you encounter is that I think everybody recognizes that it is a difficult arena.

SANDERS: That it's hard to do.

DIXON: You know, it's hard to translate live theater to television. It just is. And so certain material translates better than others. So I think it's - I think it might be because of everybody's love for a live theater and for these productions that there's an apprehension when they're going to approach new territory. But I find that that sentiment is adjusting dramatically, I think.

SANDERS: OK. Michael, do you see it, as well, this kind of stigma?

GREIF: I'm going to piggyback on what Brandon said. And I do feel like it's adjusting. And I think we're moving in really the right direction. And it feels like - you know, if we talk about "Jesus Christ Superstar," you know, I think the last musical on television we saw, you know, there was a vitality to it. There was an aliveness to it. There was a sense of, I'm so excited to be seeing this on television - I'd also love to see it live. There's, like, this is a version of this.

SANDERS: Yeah.

GREIF: And I feel like what we're doing with "Rent" is we're doing a version of it. But I'm really hoping that what it does is it makes people want to see other versions of it, as well. It's why I'm so excited to be doing so many things in this musical differently than I've ever done them before. On the other hand, there's a couple of, like, iconic moments that I've hoped to retain. You know? And I...

SANDERS: Like, give me one.

GREIF: We actually just worked on "Without You" just yesterday in rehearsal. It was a lot of conversation about, you know, is this a theatrical idea, or is this an idea that can work on - that can work for the camera? Can the camera tell this story in a good way?

SANDERS: What did you change to make it work for camera?

GREIF: I'm going to make you watch it.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: OK.

GREIF: You'll see about that.

SANDERS: OK.

GREIF: But there are other sections where, you know, I think I've really very consciously chose to - let's reimagine this and let's set this in a different time and place. And so I'm excited about the...

SANDERS: Can you give us a hint about one of the reimaginations...

GREIF: Yeah. I think...

SANDERS: ..."Rent" groupies can look forward to?

GREIF: I think people will see "Seasons Of Love" in a different way than they've seen it before.

SANDERS: Tell me more.

GREIF: No, no.

SANDERS: (Laughter) OK.

GREIF: I've told you enough.

SANDERS: OK.

DIXON: January 27, Samuel.

SANDERS: It is in my calendar, sir. (Laughter). So y'all mentioned that "Jesus Christ Superstar," which was a hit - and Brandon, you were in that whole production.

DIXON: I was.

SANDERS: And strangely enough, on my show, when that show happened, we talked to one of the makeup artists from that production. His name is Joe Dulude.

DIXON: Yeah.

SANDERS: He was great. He's a fan of the show. We called in, and we talked. And one of the things he told me that I'd never thought about before was that he told me that during the commercial breaks, the performers and the actors in the ensemble, they would be in the audience to hype the audience up. Is that for real?

DIXON: Certainly, during our commercial breaks, there was interaction with audience members...

SANDERS: Really?

DIXON: ...Amongst some of the cast members.

SANDERS: What'd y'all do?

DIXON: Well, here's the thing. There's a balance. You know, part of it is just the nature of how that show was designed. You know? So the, you know, the audience is there in the mosh, literally...

SANDERS: In the mosh pit. Yeah.

DIXON: ...Feet away from you. Yes. And during commercial breaks, you're doing changeovers. You're changing shirts. You're changing - so there's a natural energy, I think, a live energy to the concert feel of it so that it contributed to interaction. But I will say, for my part, Judas did not interact with the audience.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

DIXON: Judas kept his distance, and he observed, as Judas should.

SANDERS: 'Cause they would've thrown tomatoes at Judas. Come on.

DIXON: That's - I think you saw a different production than I did. There was a lot of love for Judas out there, my friend. (Laughter).

SANDERS: I'm just thinking biblically. What will - are you planning to have audience interaction with "Rent" live?

GREIF: Yeah. I think that's going to be a really exciting part of this. You know, "Rent" has always sort of - a component to "Rent" has always been the concert version. You know, that original production was very much about some direct interaction with an audience, songs sung directly to the audience. And I think we're really incorporating many of those moments here, too.

SANDERS: It also seems as if this implies that the relationship between the actors and the audience is inherently different with these live TV productions.

GREIF: I think it's becoming different.

SANDERS: OK.

GREIF: I mean, I think it's developing. A new language is forming which involves that interaction. I think if we think back to those first musicals, there was no interaction. I think in those very first musicals, you didn't even hear applause at the end of songs.

SANDERS: Really?

GREIF: Sometimes we went to commercial...

SANDERS: That's got to be weird.

GREIF: ...Sometimes. That was tough. Really tough. So I feel like, little by little, taking the notion of it being a live event, you know, glimpsing behind the scenes, watching how scenes transform, looking at actual scene changes a vista at those commercial breaks. I mean, that became a part of it. Until - now I think we're investigating a real concert setting in which we're anxious to see the audience's involvement, and to see the effect it's having on them in that room and to see if that's part of what we feel when we're watching at home.

SANDERS: All right. Time for one more break. Brandon on talking to Mike Pence - what he remembers about that night, and why he was not nervous at all. Be right back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Brandon, you do TV and you do stage. You're in "Power," one of my Aunt Betty's (ph) favorite shows.

DIXON: Hey, Aunt Betty.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

DIXON: (Laughter).

SANDERS: She's going to love that. Let me tell you. We talked to Jenifer Lewis last year. And at the end of the interview, I had Jenifer Lewis call my Aunt Betty. She almost died.

DIXON: (Laughter).

SANDERS: So she's going to love, love, love - she always plays snippets for her church-lady friends when she's on the show.

DIXON: Aw. That's hilarious. Wonderful.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. She loves you. But speaking of "Power" and your work in TV and your work onstage, what is the biggest difference when you go from one to the other, for you?

DIXON: I say to people - very generally, I say sometimes I feel like in theater, I'm making a series of things. And when I'm doing television, I have to do a series of things. And it makes a difference, I think, just in how - but I think it depends on whatever project I'm really working on. But I find that - I told somebody the other day that when the energy is right onstage or on-screen, like, when you're on-set or when you're onstage, you know, that is exactly the same.

And that is the thing you can trust from process to process. But every creative project is different. So I enjoy investigating them all.

SANDERS: Yeah. I would be remiss, talking to you, Brandon, and not talking about another little musical that you've been involved in. Folks may have heard of it. It's called "Hamilton." And you had an iconic moment while doing that production near the start of the Trump administration. You were the one on stage who spoke directly to now-Vice President Mike Pence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIXON: You know, we had a guest in the audience this evening.

(LAUGHTER)

DIXON: And Vice President-elect Mike Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There's nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There's nothing to boo here. We're all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir, and I hope you will hear us out. And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post because this message needs to be spread far and wide, OK. Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here on at "Hamilton: An American Musical." We really do. Visa. We, sir - we are the diverse Americans who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us...

(APPLAUSE)

DIXON: ...Our planet, our children, our parents - or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.

(APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: How did you have the presence of mind to deliver such a clear statement after such a taxing production?

DIXON: We wrote it down. That helped.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: I thought you were riffing.

DIXON: No, sir. No, sir.

GREIF: That's good acting.

DIXON: But also, you know, I'll tell you the thing that made it easiest, beyond believing in the statement and beyond, you know, feeling like it was something that needed to be said, is that I was standing on stage with a group of friends and family members - and a diverse group of friends and family members, who stood in solidarity with me. Like, you know, it's easier to do anything when you have family and friends in support of you, and particularly when you're speaking a very nonpartisan message of unity. I mean, the message was so innocuous that I also felt very comfortable saying it, you know.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

GREIF: Not innocuous but certainly coming from...

DIXON: Nonpartisan, excuse me.

GREIF: ...Coming from a place of unity and fairness and justice and the values we all hold.

DIXON: Yeah, we all hold, you know.

SANDERS: What was it like doing that show? Everything was so charged around that time. The election had just been done. There was this weird energy in the air.

DIXON: Thing's a little testy right now too.

SANDERS: Yeah. But like, in that case - I'm sure the audience didn't like that he was there, and it was just - was it hard to just do the musical that night?

DIXON: Look. During that time - I mean, it's a very political show. But also it's a show that audiences respond to on a very regular basis anyway. So even before the election, it's just the kind of energy that this show is surrounded by. But the other thing is, you know, I think you shouldn't make assumptions about the group of people or the kinds of people who come to a Broadway show or come to "Hamilton." There were people who were booing or cheering the vice president-elect at the time when he came in, and also there are people who booed or cheered my addressing him and what I was saying.

You know, I think it's - you know, we always like to make assumptions about our our politics and about, you know, our communities, and I think that's something we have to hesitate to do. But, again, I'm very glad that we decided to engage in the conversation. I'm glad that our producers wanted to use their platform to do that. And I hope - I'm glad that it did. And I hope it continues to encourage people to speak up, to approach your elected representatives. They are there to listen to our voices. That's specifically why they are working.

SANDERS: And it is such a full circle moment hearing us talk about "Hamilton" and "Rent" because, in many ways, it seems as if there would not be a "Hamilton" if there were not a "Rent." I think it's hard to overstate...

DIXON: There certainly would not be.

SANDERS: ...What the folks that didn't live through that era. Like as big as "Hamilton" has been for us, "Rent" was just as big if not bigger then. And it changed the way that we conceptualize what a musical can do and be in the culture, you know.

DIXON: Absolutely.

SANDERS: Yeah, I mean, it's - and it's like - I don't know - like your challenge isn't to make newcomers to this musical see that in the TV production, but I hope they see that. I hope they know that.

GREIF: Yeah, I think that there's a lot of trust that they will see that. You know, I think that there's still a lot of people who don't have the kind of exposure that I think Brandon and I take for granted. I remember my very own little young days sitting and watching that television and having my mind blown by a lot of things that I saw for the first time - on PBS, you know, the Tony Awards. So I think there are going to be some some hearts and minds opened and expanded even though they had no idea that it was coming to them.

SANDERS: Yeah. It's also beautifully democratic. I couldn't afford to go to a Broadway show until I was well into my '20s. And even then, I got the worst seats in the house. And to be able to say to the entire country, if you want to see one of the best musicals there is with some of the best folks doing it, just hit that button and it's right there for you on January 27, that's beautiful.

DIXON: Absolutely.

GREIF: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Well, I tell you what. I - if I could - would talk to you both for 525,600 minutes.

DIXON: Oh, Sam.

SANDERS: But I'm sure you both are quite busy getting ready for this production. I know you're going to do so well, and I can't wait to watch you.

GREIF: Thank you very much.

DIXON: Thank you so much, Sam. We appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Thanks again to Michael Greif and Brandon Victor Dixon. Be sure to check out "Rent: Live" this Sunday at 8 pm Eastern on FOX. I'll be doing so. You'll probably see me tweeting about it. Vanessa Hudgens is in this. R&B singer Mario is in this. "RuPaul's Drag Race" star Valentina is in this. It's going to be big.

Also, listeners, I know some of you hear me say this every week, and you never do it. Stop hiding. Share with me the best thing that happened to you all week. Just record yourself and send that file to me at samsanders@npr.org - samsanders@npr.org You might hear yourself in our Friday Wrap or even on the radio. All right, I'll be back in your feeds on Friday. 'Till then, thanks for listening. I'm Sam Sanders. Talk soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVAN'S "FLICKER")

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