In 1996, Jonathan Larson took Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohéme” and created the modern-day musical, “RENT.” An anthem to the lower-class of America, the LGBTQ+ community, and as an AIDS awareness, “RENT” brings humor, heartache, great songs and one touching story line to the stage — even to our screens. Fortunately, Tacoma Arts Live is bringing the “RENT” 20th Anniversary tour to their extravagant jewel box venue, the beautiful Pantages Theater. In between a national tour, The Tacoma Ledger was able to speak with cast member Coleman Cummings — the actor who plays the brooding musician Roger Davis — to talk about his history in musical theater, his experience performing Roger, and what audiences should expect to see in their rendition of “RENT.” 

Let’s talk a little about your back history with acting and musical theater. 

“I started singing in a toddler show choir at four years old, and really went through grade school. I started theater classes in middle school, and in sixth grade, I began acting classes at the Village Theater KIDSTAGE, my first show being ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.’ After high school, I attended Pacific Lutheran University, and was in the acapella group, and was so immersed in the programs that were offered there. PLU did not have a musical theater, I transferred to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, got my certificate, got my BFA in Musical Theater at New School, and from there, I started auditioning for more roles. ‘RENT’ is my first big lead to tour the country.”

What is your favorite show you’ve been in? 

“Playing Roger is a dream, but besides that, I would say Gabe in ‘Next to Normal.’ It was my first show out of college, my dream role, and I apply everything I learned to it.” 

“RENT” is a very honest show, and deals with heavy topics. What drew you to wanting to audition for the show? 

“I have known about ‘RENT’ ever since high school — I even auditioned for my high school show choir with ‘Glory.” Getting to do it [play Roger] with diversity in cast and characters, gender, sexuality, race, etc.is so exciting. We are literally telling this story with diversity. The music is so amazing, and it has its own feeling and rhythm.”

Roger Davis has a very bittersweet story line. How hard was it to get into character to accurately portray Roger? 

“Roger is a lot different than who I am. I am very upbeat, and he is not so much. To internally find Roger’s insecurities and inner battles of feeling unworthy and that he doesn’t do [accomplish] anything, I connect that into the life of the actor. You can have 100 auditions, and all of them be no’s, and I used that feeling of rejection to portray Roger. I also did a lot of research, watched a lot of videos on the AID’s epidemic, and imagining certain circumstances — such as death — as if it were in  my life.” 

What’s your favorite song from “RENT,” and why? 

“The duet with Mimi, ‘Another Day.” It’s a pivotal moment in the show, as Mimi professes her love for Roger, and he is too broken from his past relationship. It is when the message is first said, and is a central theme of the show. Since then, Roger begins to open up and refinds the joy in life.”

Who is your favorite character in “RENT” and why? 

“Angel’s character is beautiful: She is unapologetically herself, and so selfless and giving. [Her story line] is so devastating and powerful at the same time.”

What is your favorite musical, if not “RENT”? 

“‘Next to Normal,’ because it is a unique story to tell through musical theater. It deals with someone battling with mental illness, and performing it through musical theater is a unique twist on such a serious issue.”

What should Tacoma audiences be expecting with “RENT”? 

“Expect a lot of passion, a lot of amazing singing from the cast, and good vibes as the cast clicks very well. The story is about love and community, and our cast has such a good sense of love, and you feel that in the show. You feel our love to each other right on the stage, and that’s what makes it special.”

The 20th Anniversary tour of “RENT” comes to the Pantages Theater September 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m., and the fun doesn’t stop there! Students receive a 10% discount off tickets in advance with valid student ID, as well as their “rush ticket” deal, where if you purchase tickets on Tuesday and Wednesday only, guests receive discounted tickets on the first couple rows for only $22. For more information, contact the Tacoma Arts Live Box Office at 253.591.5894 or visit 901 Broadway, Tacoma 98402.

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