BWW Interviews: Lexi Lawson Chats about RENT, The Broadway Tour
RENT: The Broadway Tour stops in Toronto for two weeks beginning January 12th, starring original Broadway cast members Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal in the roles of Mark Cohen and Roger Davis. Joining them in the lead female role of Mimi Marquez is the lovely Lexi Lawson, a relative newcomer to the theatre scene and brand new to the Rent family for this tour.
Rent follows a group of young artists and musicians struggling to survive in New York City's Lower East Side while dealing with issues such as homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, drug addiction, love, loss and of course, how to pay the rent. The writer of the show, Jonathan Larson, died tragically of an aortic aneurysm right before opening night, but his beloved message lives on through the music of Rent, which has been embraced around the globe.
Due to its popularity, Rent spawned a hit 2005 movie (also starring Rapp and Pascal) and when it closed on Broadway, launched an extremely successful tour that has played the United States, Japan and now comes to Toronto.
Lexi Lawson took some time to sit down and talk with BWW about what it is like getting to perform her dream role, working with theatre veterans such as Rapp and Pascal, and life on the road:
Congratulations on the success of RENT so far, are you enjoying life on the road?
I really love it. I'm sad that it's coming to an end soon but it has been a great year. We've had a lot of fun, a lot of ups and of course some downs and the end of the tour will definitely be one of the downs. But it's been an amazing growing experience that I am so grateful for.
For those who don't know, you were a finalist on Season 8 of American Idol and dropped out to join the tour. Was that an easy decision for you?
It wasn't. Fortunately I was lucky enough to have Michael Grief (the original director) involved in the casting process because he is so open to life and opportunities and everything. He told me that I didn't have to do Rent, that I could go out to Hollywood and try American Idol and if I enjoyed it I could stay, if not, the job was mine. He was willing to let the decision be mine which was really great of him and he was so open to letting me decide and didn't try and pin me down by saying that I had to do it. The people on Idol where a bit more strict, some were happy and supportive but a lot wanted to know why I was leaving and were trying to say that I should stay. When it comes right down to it though I had to do what I wanted and follow my heart.
Is it a decision that you ever find yourself regretting?
Absolutely not. American Idol brings a kind of instant fame that I may not be in tune with and I really enjoy the growth aspect of a career and getting to experience that journey and path that I am experiencing now. With American Idol that may have been hindered as it may have been more the instant fame that I am not a fan of. I'm really happy doing Rent and getting to endure this amazing path.
What is your favourite part of getting to play Mimi?
Well mainly she is just such a character that you have to learn to love throughout the show. She is this tough girl, and she's funky and lively and witty and very much "I'm not taking your crap". However, she is also so vulnerable inside and it's written all over her face. As tough as she is, you know it's just an act because she is so scared to get hurt.
I love that about her because we all have some Mimi in us, we put up these walls in our own ways so that we don't have to get hurt and I enjoy playing her because in a lot of ways, it's an extension to every girl who is out there in the audience every night because every girl can relate to her in many ways. She is young, only nineteen, and meeting a boy for the first time; that's why I love her so much. She has many flaws and leads a hard life, but inside she is really just a kid trying to have a good time.
I have heard a lot of compliments about the way you act the role. Mimi is vocally very demanding; however, it is important that the progression of the character not get lost in trying to simply sing and dance the role. Was it difficult to find that balance between singing and acting?
Absolutely. That is something I've really worked for so that is really wonderful to hear that people are responding to it. I wasn't sure how well it was going at first and at the beginning of the tour I may not have been the best at it, but I have really worked hard to make sure I'm acting the role now. I came into this role as a singer and I didn't really know how to act. It really felt like I had to try, whereas now I say "act first then sing." I really think the growth is the most important factor, I used to think that the first act was so strong and I was really fighting for it to be strong and then the second act was easier.
With the first act, I have the really physically demanding numbers such as "Out Tonight", "Light My Candle" and "La Vie Boheme", so it was very exhausting and the second act could almost be seen as a break in comparison. Now I realize that the second act is really the one where I have to fight to stay strong and give a solid performance. Because really, that is what Mimi is doing. She is fighting for her life and I am drained because it takes more energy and is actually more physically demanding than everything I do in Act One.
In the Second Act, I don't perform or dance at all so it might seem a bit hard to believe, but it is definitely more physically demanding. You have to sing the songs, but you have to make sure people can pick up on all those emotions and the fight in Mimi, because she is going through a lot. And it is amazing and really wonderful that people are picking up on it, especially in some of these bigger houses. On tour we play much bigger theatres than the Nederlander and so it's really great that people are still able to connect with the character.
How do you keep your performance fresh when you have been doing it for over a year now?
I keep it fresh because I am really feeling the emotions. For the three hours I'm on stage I AM Mimi and I don't even think about Lexi. Even if I'm tired I just try and think of "what would Mimi do" and that's how I keep it fresh. I also feed off of everybody else and I think that's how we all do it, we're just feeding off each other's energy. Sometimes Michael Grief will come and check to see how we're doing as well and then he might make little changes and that helps to keep things fresh.
Since you are touring and always in different houses, do you find that you ever get scared having to perform Out Tonight up on the bars? You don't really have the opportunity to adjust to a specific venue and get more comfortable. Is that difficult?
Actually, not really, because the set is always the same no matter where we go. At first I was a bit scared but I'm not anymore. I remember the first time I tried it I was thinking "I have to do this whole number up here? Forget it, I'll perform it on the floor!" but now I am comfortable with it *laughs*
In Japan and Korea the set actually was a bit different and the loft for "Out Tonight" was a bit higher so that took a bit of an adjustment, but otherwise, it's just same set, different location!
Compared to many members of the cast, you are a relative newcomer to the Broadway scene and brand new to Rent. What is it like getting to work with Original Broadway Cast members like Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal and Gwen Stewart? Are you learning a lot?
I was basically peeing my pants, actually having an "oh my god no way" moment before we started. I was shaking and nervous and going through all those emotions before coming into rehearsal. I got to rehearse a few days before the rest of the cast, but we still only had about two weeks to learn the show. Coming into that process I remember thinking that not only do I have to learn the whole show in two weeks, but I also have to perform it with Anthony and Adam? It was pretty scary.
But it ended up being the complete opposite of what I thought. They came in and were really sweet, I remember Anthony even came over to me and offered to help if I needed anything, and told me that he was there to listen if I needed it. And I will never forget the first time we all stood in a circle to sing "Seasons of Love" and I had Gwen Stewart right next to me singing. I started to cry a little because I just couldn't believe that this woman who actually knew Jonathan (Larson) and performed in the show back in the day was singing right next to me. They are all just such fun and lovely spirits.
Where you a fan of the show before getting the role?
Of course! I loved Rent. I always wanted to play Mimi.
The tour lands in Toronto this week, have you visited Toronto before?
Actually this will be my first time, and I've hardly even been able to get on a computer or anything so I haven't had the chance to look up and see what I might like to do. I am glad that we're going to be there for a bit longer now (the tour recently announced an extension and will now be in Toronto for two weeks). It's always great when we get to stay in a city for longer and get the chance to get to know it a bit.
Have you had any crazy stage door experiences yet?
Not really, but I am sure that Adam and Anthony have had tons! Our fans are really sweet and they may say funny things or want to take strange pictures and get hugs but they are generally very respectful. One of the most amazing things is that we have Japanese fans now coming to the States just to see the show and they don't even know our language. But they will actually wait outside the theatre for our first call at 7:30, and get a picture with us. And then they will be back after the show with the picture already developed ready to give it to us which is just a very neat and different cultural experience. But no matter where we go we have been really lucky, our fans are enthusiastic yet respectful.
With "Rentheads" Mimi is often a dream role for many young girls. Do you have any advice to young girls aspiring to break into musical theatre?
Of course! I remember being in elementary school and having a classmate tell me that I looked like the girl who played Mimi and I remember thinking that I knew I wanted to play her and that I COULD play her. I told my agent at the time that I was going to and that I didn't want to do Broadway unless it was to do Rent. So when I found out it was closing I was so disappointed and I figured I had lost my chance. I had auditioned a few times previously for the non-equity tours and also just at open calls, but never had the chance to play the role. And then this opportunity came along.
I guess it just shows that you never know when your time will be, and this happened to be mine. So just keep striving and keep on auditioning. It is really important to not be afraid of rejection, it doesn't mean they don't like you or that you aren't right, it may just mean you aren't right for right now. If you really want it, you need to keep going after it.
So Mimi was a dream role for you, now that you have gotten to play her, do you have another role you dream of being able to play?
Absolutely, I really want to play Vanessa from In The Heights, I'm in love with that show right now.
Have you been able to take in any shows while you have been off on your holiday break?
Yep, I was able to see Memphis and In The Heights and of course the Radio City Spectacular. I'm hoping to see West Side Story while I'm home as well.
Anything final you would like to add?
Just a big thank you to all our fans for your wonderful warmth and spirit and how welcoming everyone has been. I look forward to coming to Toronto!
The Toronto engagement marks the beginning of the end of RENT: The Broadway Tour's hit run. With just four weeks remaining after over a year on the road, this is one of your last chances to see the show before the tour comes to an end. Did you miss it in NYC? Come to Toronto, two whole weeks before the cast heads west! They have a brief stop in Wisconsin before finishing out the tour in Sacramento, California.
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When and Where?
RENT: The Broadway Tour
Jan 12-24, 2010
The Canon Theatre, 244 Victoria St, Toronto
Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri @ 8PM
Sat @ 2PM and 8PM
Sun @ 1PM and 6PM
Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 (toll-free 1-800-461-3333) or online at www.mirvish.com
For more information visit www.siteforrent.com.
Rush and Lotto Details:
As has generally been the tradition of Rent, there will be a limited number of both lotto and rush seats available.
For Lotto: Names can be entered into the lottery 2 hours before each performance, in person at the box office. The draw will take place an hour and a half before each performance. Names will be drawn for 18 front row seats at $20 each (cash-only). Winners must be present and will need to show photo ID. Limit TWO tickets per person.
For Rush: Rush tickets will be limited to students. Available to purchase in person at the box office two hours before the performance with VALID student ID. Limit ONE ticket per student, $25 per ticket. Seating will be subject to availability.