BWW Interview: Kaleb Wells as Roger in RENT on Tour
With the 20th Anniversary of RENT currently touring North America, audiences are enjoying this production that is close to the original Broadway production. As "A re-imagining of Puccini's La Bohème, RENT follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out" (renttour.com).
Kaleb Wells plays Roger who struggles with his own personal demons as he follows his own dreams. Wells is living his dreams as he portrays Roger during this production. BWW caught up with Wells as he continues to travel with the 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT.
Tell us how you got interested in performing.
I got started early when I was six. I think I was in first grade. I was a loud energetic kid who would quote his favorite movies and sing his favorite songs. My parents put me in a theater summer camp, the summer of my first grade so I wouldn't bother them at home. I just grew to crave it and I loved being onstage and I loved making people laugh. I loved telling stories and singing songs. It's something I did all throughout my childhood and into high school and then when it came time to go to school, I decided to major in acting because I had grown up with such a musical background and playing instruments and singing in choruses and bands. It's been my entire life.
What do you remember about some of your earlier performances?
It was exhilarating. I never really got stage fright at the beginning and nobody had to push me to make a fool of myself. I enjoyed making a fool of myself to the point where I didn't really know that I was making a fool of myself. In elementary school and middle school where people are so overly conscious of their status among peers, I was never conscious of that so I made a fool of myself all the time. I loved being on a stage. It gave me something to explore and something to play with and I think that was the thing that made me enjoy it so much was the play aspect of it and being able to make different choices then I would make in my own life and I would be able to do different things and not feel tied down by self-awareness.
And you've had the opportunity to work on a cruise ship in the past doing ROCK OF AGES. Tell us more about that.
When I finished school, I immediately got a job working for Norwegian Cruise Lines in their production of ROCK OF AGES. It's a little bit different than normal cruise work. It's not like a variety show. It actually was a Broadway show and the original Broadway producers were involved in putting the show on the ship. Ship life is very different than performing on land. It's very industrial performing but you are trapped there so it can be very exhausting. It can take a lot out of you because you're at the mercy of the ship and the itinerary and the people. You sometimes can't leave the ship for days at a time.
And currently you are touring with the 20th Anniversary Production of RENT. Tell us more about this experience.
It's the 20th Anniversary of RENT. It's really for the fans of the show. That's why the show is still around. It's why people are still paying to see this show. It's why we're still selling out houses because they want to see the show that has either changed their life before or they're seeing it for the first time and they've listened to the soundtrack over and over again and it's a life changing experience. It's very very close to the original production. A lot of the original team members are working on it. Marlies Yearby the choreographer was heavily involved in the process. Tim Weil, the original music supervisor was heavily involved in the process. We have the original costume designer, Angela Wendt. She is using most of the old costumes but she is trying out some new pieces on a few people. The set is basically the original Broadway set. People are going to come and see something that they are very familiar with if they've seen the show before and are fans of the show. I think the thing that we bring to the show that is different is somewhat of a perspective of - it's been 20 years and the world has changed but not necessarily as drastically as you might think it has. A lot of the same problems still exist with homelessness and drug use and mortality. Thankfully, (with) AIDS (there is not) the immediate death sentence that it once was but I think there are equivalents in the world today. I think what we bring is a youthful energy and a millennial perspective to the show. I think people are really enjoying the production.
Were you able to see any of the productions before being in the show yourself?
I was. The first time I saw it live onstage, I was 14 and I saw a touring production in Boston with my mom who is a huge Renthead. She introduced me to it. It was one of the first musical CD's that I had. We had the double disk with the original Broadway cast recording. I didn't even really know that it was a show onstage. I knew it as good music I would listen to on car rides and stuff like that. I really got into it. Then we saw it in Boston in a touring production and it changed everything. You think you understand it when you listen to the soundtrack or when you watch the 2005 movie but seeing it live onstage with other people in a theater with a loud PA system, it's a powerful thing.
RENT has a very limited engagement at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio from March 3-5, 2017. Tickets can be purchased at the theater's website.
PHOTO CREDIT: Carol Rosegg