BWW Special: RENT Alums Mark 15th Anniversary of the Original Canadian Production
It’s been 15 years since the original Canadian production of RENT took Toronto by storm, and some of the original cast members are returning for a one night only benefit concert to raise money for Fife House this coming Monday, October 29th. Chad Richardson, Cary Shields, Jenifer Aubrey, Gavin Hope and Dominique Roy will join cast members from Sheridan College’s production of RENT to perform in a special concert honouring Jonathan Larson’s work.
Throughout the week BWW will be speaking with members of the original cast about their experience with RENT and what the show meant to them. We’re kicking things off with Chad Richardson who played the original Mark in Toronto and eventually went on to play the role on Broadway. He talks about how he tries to live the message of RENT every day, his advice for people just beginning their RENT journey and the special joy that comes with being in an original production of this show:
Congratulations on the 15th Anniversary of the Canadian Cast of RENT! Could you give our readers an idea of what they can expect from the show on the 29th?
We’re doing about sixteen selections from the show with the company that’s been assembled by Michael Rubinoff. The alums who are returning will basically pop in to do a song here and there and the group will perform the other selections. I think I’m doing Tango Maureen, Halloween, What You Own and possibly Santa Fe.
Can you tell us about your journey with RENT?
I was with the Canadian production for its entire run, which included Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. We had an eight month sit-down in Toronto, one month in Ottawa and two in Vancouver. When that was finished I transitioned to Broadway where I did the show for five years (and met my wife Cristina Fadale).
After doing the show for so many years, do you think it will be a lot of muscle memory returning to you when you perform Monday night?
I’ll be honest with you, when I first heard I was going to do the benefit I immediately went ‘December 24th, 9PM Eastern Standard Time…” just to see what I remembered. A lot of it is still there but I want to hunker down and really prepare because I want to do the material and Jonathan justice.
Do you still see your former cast members on a regular basis?
Not very often unfortunately, but we do sometimes cross paths. Saskia Garel lives close to me in LA and our kids play together – so she’s probably the one I see the most. Some of the Toronto people came in and out of the Broadway show so we connected then, and I recently saw Jenifer Aubrey who’s performing in Toronto with Cirque du Soleil right now. And of course I married someone from the show! In fact, Cristina and I had the first RENT baby – we beat Taye and Idina!
What was the single biggest thing you took away from your RENT experience?
This might sound a little weird, but it was the relationships I formed with people who were different from me. I grew up in Newfoundland and had lived in Paris, London, Montreal and Toronto when I was cast in RENT, and while I knew people who were African American or homosexual, I didn’t really count any of them in my close circle of friends. Suddenly I was in this production where my roommates and cast members were African American or homosexual and I went from knowing one or two people from these groups to becoming very involved in those communities. I feel very privileged that the show thrust me into worlds I only knew on the outside, and now I feel very close to them and grateful that it opened my eyes. The show did that for me on a personal level – and I think that is what it should do for the audience as well.
If you could give one piece of advice to the people who are performing RENT today – what would it be?
Listen to what you’re singing. We were very fortunate when we did the show because if you got to do an original production of RENT you had a unique experience. All of the original companies got to know Al and Nan Larson very well, and I consider them lifelong friends. They used to come and spend weeks with the cast and talk about Jonathan and the importance of the material.
The thing about RENT is that it’s almost one of the first ‘reality’ shows performed on stage. A lot of it was real – a lot of the characters and the people really existed in Jonathan’s world. When new companies ask me to give advice on the show, I have a letter that I wrote which I give them and it outlines the specialness of the show and how privileged I think people should feel to get to be a part of it. When I was on Broadway and having a really bad day, I used to joke with my castmates about how what we really needed was this show. It’s incredible to be doing this show were you talk about how precious life is, and then when you’re struggling you make an extra point to really listen to what you’re singing and it makes everything better. There were moments some nights where I would be doing ‘Life Support’ and I would actually come out the other side of it like an audience member – it was the best therapy I could have ever had.
Do you try and take the message of the show and apply it in your day to day life?
I think about that question a lot – about how can you possibly sing this show eight times a week for five years and not come away with that message ingrained inside of you. That being said it can be hard at times to fight our instincts. There are days where I catch myself and I have to say ‘did I learn anything from being in RENT???’ And then I go back and rethink about some of the songs and I remember the message. We all live our lives and often put self-imposed roadblocks in front of ourselves and if anything RENT is all about not doing that – and the words in the songs remind me of that.
When and Where?
RENT 15th Anniversary Concert to benefit Fife House
October 29th, 2012
Daniel's Spectrum - 585 Dundas Street East
Tickets can be purchased online at https://secure3.ticket-ops.com/FIFE_HOUSE_SPOTLIGHT/eDirect
For more information about Fife House please visit their official website at http://www.fifehouse.org/