BWW Interview: Cody Jenkins Talks All Things RENT Coming This Weekend to the Fox Theatre!
RENT is coming back to Detroit! The limited engagement is part of the Fox Theatre series and a stop on the 20th Anniversary Tour. It will here October 11th and 12th at the Fox Theatre. In 1996, an original rock musical by a little-known composer opened on Broadway and forever changed the landscape of American theatre. Two decades later, Jonathan Larson's RENT continues to speak loudly and defiantly to audiences across generations and all over the world. The Pulitzer Prize and Tony-Award winning master piece returns to the stage in a vibrant 20th anniversary touring production. A reimagining of Puccini's La Bohème, RENT follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out. BroadwayWorld Detroit had a chance to speak with Cody Jenkins, who plays the role of Mark in the 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT, about the show, his iconic role, and why RENT is still going strong 20 years later. Check out our conversation below!
BroadwayWorld Detroit: Hi Cody! Could you give the readers a brief background of yourself and your theatre career as an introduction?
Cody Jenkins: I started performing in theatre summer camps with my sister when I was a kid as well as playing sports. Around when I was 13, I went back to camp and the first big role I ever did was Linus in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. It turned into something that I did every year because I was making friends there. Through middle school and high school, I kept performing in a little performance group that I was part of called Kids Who Care, it was a nonprofit organization in Fort Worth, Texas. Broadway Theatre Project, was a Broadway theatre intensive, that I went to for my last two years of high school. I was studying there until I went to Texas State University, where I got my BFA in acting. Once I graduated, I stayed in the Texas area around family and friends for a couple years. Then my career really took off post-college with Norwegian Cruise Lines in 2018. I started a six-month contract with them in beginning of that year. Following that, I did a brand new musical called Now and Then where I got to originate a role in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Then I moved to New York City for a few months in October 2018. I thought it was going to be longer than just a few months, but I was fortunate enough that right as I got to the city, about a week after, there were auditions for RENT. I auditioned and went through the process of callbacks, and at the same time found a catering job. I kind of was setting myself up for winter in the city, even getting ready for the next round of auditions, as I kept getting called back to RENT. Then my manager gave me the call one day and I had the job. I ended up being a replacement on the cast last year. I joined them mid-way as Gordon and I understudied Roger. We finished up that contract in July and I started rehearsals immediately for this year's tour as Mark. We've made our way through rehearsals, the opening, and everything - and now we are here!
If you had to describe RENT in five words, what would you say?
Powerful. Timeless. Love. Connection. Enjoyment of life.
Why is RENT a timeless a show?
Jonathan just did a really beautiful job of writing a really wonderful story. He wrote things about the world that he was living in, was growing up in, and observing through his friends and family and tying these things together to write a story. There are things in the story that you can pull out and place in 2019 and they would still have the same effect or the same meaning for the current time. For instance, in "What You Own," the line, "connection in isolating age," I think that's kind of what as America we feel lately - isolation through many different things whether it be race or gender or many things in our world. I think the show, itself, really plays to being a timeless piece. People who saw the show 24 years ago, it means something to them. I think back then it was the Hamilton of its time back when it was on Broadway and fresh on the tour. I think that when people come back, the music is just as spectacular. They remember the music. They remember the songs like "Take Me or Leave Me," "La Vie Bohème," and "Out Tonight." They remember these big numbers that they loved hearing or seeing. It keeps them coming back because now they have kids. So often at the stage door we have parents that bring their children and they say, "Oh my gosh, we saw this show 24 years ago on Broadway and we have been waiting to show our two daughters and now we can." We hear so much of "we want to share this story with our family" or "it's been so long since we've seen it" or they are just curious if it the same show they saw years ago or not. I think there is curiosity. I think there is love of the show. I think there is a wanting to pass that story along to future generations. I think that it's very important because I think there is a lot of very important and wonderful messages inside of the show that are useful. I think it still does resonate. It's a beautiful story, it told that story 24 years ago. And it tells it now almost upon its 25th anniversary, and on the 50th anniversary of the show, I can almost be a betting man and bet money that this show will still resonate 50 years from its original date because of how powerful the message is inside. It will just continuously tell a beautiful story.
What is it like to play such an iconic role of Mark?
Oh my gosh, it's an honor first of all. It's really an honor to be able to do it. It's kind of shocking. It's really out of body. Now I've been doing it for a little while so I've been getting more and more used to it. I had Mark in my mind as a dream role. When I was a kid, back when I was telling you, when I was 12 and 13, kind of starting to think "I like doing this," and now I have friends who like this, and this is fun - Mark and Roger, both, were the two guys I wanted to be. RENT was one of the first and biggest shows that I had seen or had enjoyed. I wanted to be in RENT and be a part of the show. Just because I thought these characters were so cool and these characters were so real. To say that I get to step into that scarf and that sweater; I get to hold that camera; I get say all these lines and, every day, I get to do that iconic opening monologue; Every day I get sing "What You Own" now instead of singing that in my car with my best friends, I get to do it on a stage in front of people every single day; It's truly like a humungous dream come true. It's kind like is this real? Is this real? What's happening to me? It's just really remarkable. I'm living a dream out. When I joined the tour last year, just joining the show, RENT, itself was a huge thing for me because of how big the show is, how much it means to me personally, and how much fun it would be to be in the show! Then to turn around and say that I'm Mark is just an honor and I'm really glad that hard work paid off. I'm glad that they trust me and that they liked me enough to offer me the role. I'm so humbled and honored to play this role. It's just been a wonderful dream come true and for the next eight months, I'm living out a dream and it's really wonderful.
Congratulations on making your dream!
Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
That's a really good question. There are a lot of moments that I really, really love in the show. What I really do love about the show is the opening. I love how just relaxed it feels. It's just so comfortable. It's kind like a conversation with the audience in the monologue and then once we get to the introduction of all the characters, we get into "Rent." And "Rent" is such a high-powered number and the minute that power blows and everyone starts running around the stage, it's a wonderful set up to do the show. I feel like I'm running around the stage, jumping up, over, and on tables while singing and throwing papers in a trash can. It feels so rebel anarchy, high energy, and, yeah, we're not going to pay. The energy inside of it feels so good because it gets the show going, the blood going, and it gets you really excited for the show. I think it's a very fun opening. One of my favorites is the very end when we all turn around together and shout, "viva la vie bohème!" Just because it capped such a long act, so much information, and so much story. Such a big power ending where everyone is together. We're celebrating. Partying. Rioting. The show starts in a very high place with "Rent," a high-powered number. And the act, also, ends with a high-powered number. So those two numbers would be my one moment. Those two numbers do a good job of carrying us into the second act. They are really fun moments for me.
Why should the people of Detroit come see RENT?
I say that you should cancel all your plans and buy a ticket to come see us. (laughs) No, no, no, but truly yes, see your family and do all the things, but come see us! I think people should come see the show because we were in Detroit last year and it's a limited time engagement. Catch it while you can because it's just a really wonderful show. We are on the fourth leg of this 20th anniversary tour and we are fortunate that we have it going. Just to get the opportunity to get out and see it means you could walk away with your life changed, you really don't know. This is the kind of show that could really do something for you, without you knowing it. This show has the power to do that to people. I think that if people are wanting an experience to kind of shake them up a little bit or to kind of wake them up a little bit or to get them inspired or to make them feel anything to any degree, this show really will do it all - it will make you feel all kinds of things. If people want a weekend of laugher, then come laugh and cry with us and get an emotional catharsis, see some beautiful work, and support us lovely artists.
RENT runs October 11th and 12th at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased at 313presents.com, Little Caesars Arena XFINITY box office, and ticketmaster.com. Purchase three or more Fox Theatre Series titles and save up to 20% as "Select-Your-Show" packages are available now by calling the Group Sales Department at (313) 417-3099. Discounts are also available for groups of 10 or more. To learn more, visit 313Presents.com/Ticket-Speical-Offers/Groups.