To the masses, “Rent” is that musical that taught the world there are 525,600 minutes in a year. But to a generation or two of theater kids, gay men and musical fans, “Rent” was a seismic Broadway story of loss, love and the inescapable touch of the AIDS epidemic in 1990s New York City.

Today, its message of living for today is performed in city theaters and high schools across the country every year, its songs are well-worn selections at karaoke bars, and a big-screen adaptation in 2005 elevated its intimate scale to varying effect. But on Sunday, the brainchild of the late playwright Jonathan Larson is going where it’s never gone before - primetime TV.

Fox is staging “Rent Live” (8-10 p.m. Jan. 27), the latest in a string of live musical productions that have spawned a few recent technical marvels (“Grease Live,” “Jesus Christ Superstar Live”).

Jordan Fisher is among those generations inspired by the musicality and inclusivity of “Rent,” which he was first introduced to about 15 years ago.

Fisher remembers soon after, he told a mentor he was staking his claim on being the first person of color to play “Rent’s” Mark, the white, Jewish filmmaker born into privilege who acts as the story’s narrator (originally played by Anthony Rapp).

But Fisher takes a beat to put that dream into context.

“This is coming from a guy mixed with a bunch of ethnicities from a small football town about 20 minutes outside Birmingham, Alabama,” he said. “In the 90s, I was the only kid around that looked like me. But I saw myself in Mark and I wanted to see that represented.”

In the intervening years, Fisher, now 24, became a triple-threat artist with a solid resume on stage and live on TV. He won a recent cycle of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” a title he segued into a co-hosting stint on “Dancing With the Stars Juniors.” He’s been in the Broadway company of “Hamilton” and was a breakout in “Grease Live,” dusting off the underrated song “Those Magic Changes” with just a guitar and a cool confidence in the heat of live madness.

But he’s never lost that yearning to play Mark, a role he was fought for after “Rent Live” was announced - and a persistence that paid off.

This week, Jordan and the rest of the fast-and-furious production’s cast and crew entered the homestretch, polishing the edges of its intricate vision and direction, co-helmed by Michael Greif, the director of the original Broadway production.

“I’m pretty amped,” Fisher said. “You get in the trenches with these people and it flies by, and I knew it going into this. I’m gonna snap my fingers, blink my eyes and it’s going to be the last couple of days before the show and here we are. We only get one shot at this.”

The last few months of rehearsal have been long days and tough challenges, but Fisher said that’s what forges the family necessary to get to “Rent’s” heart and soul. In the core cast is fellow “Grease Live” alum Vanessa Hudgens, singer Tinashe, Brandon Victor Dixon (fresh from his Emmy-nominated turn in “Jesus Christ Superstar”), Brennin Hunt, Kiersey Clemons, Mario and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” favorite Valentina.

While “Rent” remains of a specific time, when communities were being decimated by AIDS and HIV, Fisher said this 2019 staging was never about retooling it to fit the needs of today.

“The content does that for us,” he said. “‘Rent’ resonates with people across generations because it’s really great art.”

Its primetime slot does mean that some curse words and suggestive material will be sacrificed to the network censors. But in their absence, Fisher said Greif is infusing the show with ideas he’s been itching to try out since staging the original. Fisher also had the freedom to play Mark as “more tortured than I’ve ever seen him portrayed.”

But the integrity of the original is never compromised in this new telling. Fisher said Larson’s sister, Julie, and father, Al, have been on set every day and are executive producers on the show.
He remembers tears forming in Al’s eyes after being asked what he thought of one rehearsal.

“He just hugged me and said, ‘Thank you,’” Fisher said.

Just days until showtime, Fox released a promotional clip of the cast huddled in a circle on the industrial-influenced set, singing an a capella version of the show’s earworm opener, “Seasons of Love.”

Fisher said the video was actually shot while the group harmonized to record the soundtrack version with music playing in their ears. But seeing a new perspective of that moment has been emotional.

“It’s vulnerable and beautiful and raw hearing and seeing that moment in that way,” he said. “It’s a testament to the heart of this cast and crews, how deeply we care about Jonathan’s story.”
Hunter Ingram can be reached at Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com. Hunter is a member of the Television Critics Association.