The iconic rock musical RENT is still going strong in carrying their message of friendship, community, and love. Making their way back to Denver’s Performing Arts Center (DCPA) from February 28 to March 1 for a short stint as part of their 20th Anniversary Tour, the celebration of the show which forever changed the landscape of queer storytelling is still as impactful as ever.
Jonathan Larson’s RENT continues to be an act of defiance, as generations are continually introduced to the story of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out. With its inspiring message of joy through adversity and authenticity in the face of fear, it’s no wonder that this show has withstood the test of time.
Recently, OUT FRONT caught up with Joshua Tavares, the actor/singer/dancer who is assuming the role of Angel Dumott Schunard during the 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT. Angel, the street performer and drag queen, is not only an energetic role but her presence in the musical holds a pivotal position, and her departure ushers the remaining characters into a point of no return.
Tavares shared with us what life is like on the road in a touring theater company, the specialness of being able to step into the shoes of Angel, and truly how difficult it is to dance in those heels!
Joshua, it’s so great to get the chance to talk to you! Can you give us a bit of your background as a performer?
I grew up in Hawaii; I was born and raised there. My dad is a musician, so I kind of grew up in music; it was part of my world. I fell in love with theatre in high school; I did my first play in high school. My drama club went to New York City, and I got to see my first professional Broadway shows. That was my first exposure to professional theatre, and I just realized,’ Oh my gosh; people are doing this for a career.’ I studied performing arts at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. I got my Bachelor’s in acting, and then I continued my training at the American Musical Dramatic Academy in New York, and that’s where I got a lot of my training.
I’ve been in New York for about seven years now, but this show is the first show that people would recognize the name of the show and the name of the character. Everything that I’ve done before has been workshops, new work, new musicals, different festivals, and I’ve sung in different bands, bars, and corporate events. Just any opportunity I could get to start building my resume and continuing to work on my craft.
What is it like being on tour in a production of this scale?
It’s a dream come true; I feel so lucky to be a part of such an iconic show, such an iconic character, and then to be able to travel all around; it’s just the perfect combination. It’s like the dream come true. I can’t ask for anything more.
Was something that you were really drew you to RENT; do you have a specific place in your heart for this show?
Yeah, it was never a show that I consciously was like, ‘I’m gonna do that show one day,’ but I think subconsciously, I was always drawn to Angel. Specifically, and when I first saw the movie, I was in high school, and I wasn’t exposed those kinds of characters. I remember Angel being so unapologetic, so in her own skin, and didn’t need labels; I remember being captivated by somebody who could be so free.
I had an opportunity after high school to play Angel, and I just wasn’t ready at that time; it felt too scary for me to dive into that role. So, it’s a full-circle moment now that I’m a little more sure of who I am. I think we’re always learning who we are, but Angel was just that role that was always challenging me to not apologize for who I am as a person and to fight for what I want.
How does it now feel that you have gotten the role, and you’re playing Angel?
So beautiful and such a gift, but also, I understand the responsibility. There’s such a legacy of the show, the character, there’s a lot of people connected to Angel. Angel has inspired so many people. I’ve heard so many stories from people who come to see the show of how important Angel is to them, and I don’t take it lightly. I feel super grateful to be a part of that legacy, so every chance that I can, I try to remind myself of how lucky I am.
What was the most surprising to you in coming into this role?
The most surprising was definitely the height of the heels. When I got the offer (to play Angel,) I went and bought my first pair of heels just to walk around the house, hang out, and just feel what it was like, and the heels that I bought are way low. The physical demands of the role was a shock for me; you know coming into it that Angel has to do those crazy things in those heels, but you don’t really know until you’re doing them yourself.
Then I think balancing the expectations of what people want Angel to be: audiences, the creative team, the rest of the cast. That’s just an actor thing when you approach something that’s still well-known; how do you come to the role and honor your fresh interpretation and what you want to bring to it while also honoring the legacy?
What do you feel is really special about this cast in particular?
We are aware of how lucky we are, and that’s what makes our specific company, our cast, and the show extra special and enjoyable. We don’t take it for granted. The show has been playing on for a long time; it’s the 20th anniversary tour. We’re in the fourth year of the 20th anniversary tour, so there’s that legacy and we take into account that we’re so lucky to be a part of such something that’s so tried and true, and continues to leave a lasting impression.
How does it feel when you are able to connect to audiences and fans of the show after a performance?
When I get to talk face to face with people after the show who have lived through the AIDS crisis, who knew people who died from the disease, and to hear stories like, ‘I was going to a funeral every two weeks because somebody I knew was dying from the disease.’ To hear those stories from real people who are so moved to see their family and their friends represented on stage, to me, that’s what makes this whole story worth it. That’s why we tell this story; it’s for those people, to continue the legacy of those we’ve lost and those who had to go through that loss in whatever capacity. It’s always very moving, very emotional, and all I ever say is thank you.
Is there anything else you want people to know about you or RENT?
Come and see the show! It’s fun; it’s sad; it’s human; it’s everything.
*Photos by Amy Boyle