Interview: Christian Thompson of RENT 20th Anniversary Tour

BroadwayWorld San Francisco spoke with Christian Thompson, who plays Benny in the 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT, coming to San Francisco February 7 - 19. Thompson tells us about the universal themes found in the musical, his own favorite Bohemian activity for each tour stop and, of course, love.

This is your first national tour. Does life on the road meet your expectations?

It's been great. I was fortunate to do a cruise ship just before this, which kind of helped me get ready for life out of a suitcase. It's been an exciting time to see the country, and we traveled to Tokyo, which was phenomenal. My favorite thing to do is go out and find local coffee shops.

That certainly seems like a Bohemian thing to do.

It does. It's very RENT.

What was your background with RENT before joining the national tour?

I saw the show first as a movie. It was one of those soundtracks that got me through my middle school and high school years. I actually learned the vocal track for Benny in college because one of professors said, "You'll play this role one day." Little did we know that would be with the 20th anniversary tour.

Is there a particular part of the show that you relate to?

I really love Angel's character. But I feel like I relate to Collins a lot and getting to watch our Collins, AaRon Harrington, is always a pleasure because he's so much about keeping the group together and keeping his family together. That resonates with me - wanting to keep my community close and safe and happy.

RENT has certainly developed a family of its own over the years. As a younger cast, has this ensemble looked at the history behind the show?

I've done some research on the creation and [lyrics and book writer] Jonathan Larson and the situation he was writing about. We as a cast watched a couple documentaries to see what the world was like in that community in that time.

How does this new production tap into the show's history and message?

The blessing in that is that it's just fantastic material. Jonathan set us up with material that, yes, has some dated references, but for the most part is about universal themes like love and inclusion that just resonate on a human level.

RENT is challenging subject matter, and it's challenging to perform. What is your mindset as you bring the musical to audiences new and old?

The great thing about RENT and meeting the people who have such a personal connection and personal stories connected to the show is it keeps fueling us. Sometimes we'll have a really long bus day and jump into the show. But it's meeting those people. We were very fortunate to meet Jonathan Larson's parents recently and his sister and one of his college roommates. Them telling us the stories of him pushing to get this right is fuel to the fire. It keeps our passion going.

I remember seeing clips from the Broadway production as a kid and thinking, wow that's a show I want to see. What is it about this show that has allowed it to see so many productions and such success in its 20 years?

Part of it is seeing the clips and seeing how much fun and how human these characters are on stage. You can always find someone you relate to or someone you know on the stage, which is a treat. I think it's one of the reasons we come to the theatre - to feel understood.

This production combines some of the original creative talent with a new, young cast. How does that affect the energy and quality of the production?

I think a part of what has kept it so fresh is this cast, is the energy that we can bring. When we get together in a room, you can feel the electricity. And that is something that I think the audience will leave with. I would say that we are the big difference [in this new tour.] This is a cast that is closer to the ages of the characters they're portraying. I'm astonished and amazed and humbled by the talent that our producer were able to find. And that gives you something different. We try to lean on the material. We never know what the audience is going to bring. We just know what we have and just want to share it at the end of the day.

We also changed a bit of choreography. I had the pleasure of working with the original choreographer, and together we formulated some new choreography for Benny so it's a little more hip-hop infused, a little more updated. That's exciting to put my mark on it.

San Francisco has a Bohemian culture of its own that fits this show well. What do hope our Bay Area audiences take away?

As cliché as it sounds, I hope they take away love. I hope they feel loved. I hope they share love. I just hope that this is a big old hug of love in what has been some of the rougher times that we've seen in recent history.


RENT plays February 7 - 19 at SHN Broadway at San Francisco's Golden Gate Theatre. Visit for tickets and information.

Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

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