It’s been 15 years since the original Canadian production of RENT took Toronto by storm, and some of the original cast members are returning for a one night only benefit concert to raise money for Fife House this coming Monday, October 29th. Chad Richardson, Cary Shields, Jenifer Aubrey, Gavin Hope and Dominique Roy will join cast members from Sheridan College’s production of RENT to perform in a special concert honouring Jonathan Larson’s work.
Throughout the week BWW will be speaking with members of the original cast about their experience with RENT and what the show meant to them. We’re kicking things off with Chad Richardson who played the original Mark in Toronto and eventually went on to play the role on Broadway. He talks about how he tries to live the message of RENT every day, his advice for people just beginning their RENT journey and the special joy that comes with being in an original production of this show:
Congratulations on the 15th Anniversary of the Canadian Cast of RENT! Could you give our readers an idea of what they can expect from the show on the 29th?
We’re doing about sixteen selections from the show with the company that’s been assembled by Michael Rubinoff. The alums who are returning will basically pop in to do a song here and there and the group will perform the other selections. I think I’m doing Tango Maureen, Halloween, What You Own and possibly Santa Fe.
Can you tell us about your journey with RENT?
I was with the Canadian production for its entire run, which included Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. We had an eight month sit-down in Toronto, one month in Ottawa and two in Vancouver. When that was finished I transitioned to Broadway where I did the show for five years (and met my wife Cristina Fadale).
After doing the show for so many years, do you think it will be a lot of muscle memory returning to you when you perform Monday night?
I’ll be honest with you, when I first heard I was going to do the benefit I immediately went ‘December 24th, 9PM Eastern Standard Time…” just to see what I remembered. A lot of it is still there but I want to hunker down and really prepare because I want to do the material and Jonathan justice.
Do you still see your former cast members on a regular basis?
Not very often unfortunately, but we do sometimes cross paths. Saskia Garel lives close to me in LA and our kids play together – so she’s probably the one I see the most. Some of the Toronto people came in and out of the Broadway show so we connected then, and I recently saw Jenifer Aubrey who’s performing in Toronto with Cirque du Soleil right now. And of course I married someone from the show! In fact, Cristina and I had the first RENT baby – we beat Taye and Idina!
What was the single biggest thing you took away from your RENT experience?
This might sound a little weird, but it was the relationships I formed with people who were different from me. I grew up in Newfoundland and had lived in Paris, London, Montreal and Toronto when I was cast in RENT, and while I knew people who were African American or homosexual, I didn’t really count any of them in my close circle of friends. Suddenly I was in this production where my roommates and cast members were African American or homosexual and I went from knowing one or two people from these groups to becoming very involved in those communities. I feel very privileged that the show thrust me into worlds I only knew on the outside, and now I feel very close to them and grateful that it opened my eyes. The show did that for me on a personal level – and I think that is what it should do for the audience as well.