Almost every Broadway musical has a character that can be described as the heart of the show. If there is one character in the Tony-winning and landmark show Rent that truly defines that the meaning of the show is, it is the gender bending and heart soaring character of Angel. Every performer that inhabits Angel truly makes the role their own, but this time around newcomer and native Hawaiian Joshua Tavares is tackling the role in the 20th Anniversary production of Rent, which hits Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center from October 18th through October 20th. I sat down with Joshua to talk about landing this big role, his thoughts on his predecessor, Drag Race stunner Valentina and her own interpretation of the role, and what a production like this means in our current climate.
Michael Cook: So you are Angel in the 20th Anniversary production of Rent that heads to Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center on October 18th (through October 20th). What does that feel like to be a part of it? To many, Angel is the heart of the show
Joshua Tavares: It is huge. It feels like such an honor. Sometimes, I feel like I have to pinch myself, like “am I actually doing this”? I am part of the legacy now and I am super honored.
MC: The last Angel that many saw was portrayed by Valentina of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame during the live televised production last year. Did you get a chance to check her out in that version?
JT: I did! I love Valentina and I am a RuPaul and a Drag Race fan. She was a favorite of mine on her season and I think she’s beautiful. I was excited when she did the live version.
MC: Take me back; when did you fall in love with musical theater and realize it would be much more than a hobby, but a true passion and your career?
JT: I would say it was when I was in high school and I started doing theater performances. I fell in love with it then. With my high school drama club, we went on a trip my senior year to see some Broadway shows. It was my first time seeing professional productions of any show at all. I kind of decided then that that was what I wanted to pursue professionally and I wanted to do theater for real. I studied it in college and I moved to New York City and studied it a bit more in school there as well. I have just been auditioning ever since.
MC: Before Rent, what did you look at as one of your own biggest career achievements.
JT: Before I booked Rent, my resume was many workshops in New York City. I had a lot of great opportunities to work with directors and choreographers in the city, which is always a good thing for an actor, regardless as to whether it ends up being a hit show or not, you are still making those connections. I have been in New York City for seven years now, with two of those years being in training and in school, so five years auditioning, doing shows here and there, doing workshops, children’s theater, you name it I’ve done it. I’ve done some work on television, background work just figuring out where I could get an in and trying every angle really.
MC: The New York City theater world is a real grind in every sense of the word, but can also be so rewarding. Would you say that is true?
JT: Absolutely. What’s the saying, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”? It is super tough, super competitive, and everyone from all over the world goes there to try and make it and to try and catch their break. You are competing against the best of the best and it really does force you or help you recognize that it’s what you really want to do. You are going to get so many no”s and rejected so many times. It has helped me develop a tough skin and help you develop that instinct of “is it really worth it” or “do I really want to do this” of “am I really happy doing this”? it helps you realize the answer, which is really a blessing. It can be a curse also, because it can be very scary to face that.
MC: What do you think really attracts you to the material that Rent is made up of?
JT: I think because it has inspired and touched so many people for so long. There are still people that are hard-core Rent fans, that it is relevant to and who love the story and who are excited to see it and to share their experience of when they first saw it. I was drawn to that and fell in love with the story. Rent was not a story that I grew up with; as I evolved in my musical theatre training. I just fell in love with it. When I delved deeper into the story, and with Angel’s story specifically, I fell in love with the message of all of us being different and that all of us deserve love. You don’t have to agree with everyone’s choices in life, but you can send them love. That was the most powerful thing for me and what resonated with me the most about the entire story.
MC: With the climate our country is in now, it’s almost like Rent is as powerful today as it was when it was first released twenty years ago.
JT: Yes, absolutely. That is the beauty of theater and of good writing. The story is super relevant and inspired, there are people that come from backgrounds that are judgmental of religions and sexuality, but at the end of the day, we all just need to send love. Realize that we are all part of the same human race.
MC: What is it about Angel that you as Joshua relate to the most?
JT: I feel like what I love the most about Angel that comes the most naturally as Josh is Angel’s kindness and Angel’s ability to see the good in everyone, even if someone is being mean or not that nice. Angel is able to understand where they are coming from and always tries to understand their perspective and why they are acting the way that they are. That is what I love the most about Angel; he is living in a time where there are many things going on in his life, but he sees the goodness, he tries to be understanding, even in the tornado and whirlwind of the political climate that is happening around him. That is something that I always try to do; I may not always succeed in that but it’s what I admire most about Angel and try to put into my own everyday life.
MC: When you have time to yourself in the city, are there any shows that you are absolutely loving?
JT: I am obsessed with Kinky Boots! I would love to be an angel in Kinky Boots actually; I love that show! We’ve been out of the city for a little while, so I have not gotten to see anything recently. I definitely want to see Hadestown, that is at the top of my list! I also want to see Moulin Rouge.
MC: What would you tell the Josh that was walking into the audition for Rent and was about to see his entire life change?
JT: I would tell him to trust your instincts, trust the work and research you have done. You don’t need to stress out, give the room what you have prepared, don’t overthink it. Go in and have fun and bring the Angel that you worked on, bring her to life in that room. Leave the rest up to the heavens and the theater gods and everything else will be fine; live your life!
Follow Josh on Instagram at: www.instagram.com/babatavares
Grab tickets for Rent at: https://www.kimmelcenter.org/events-and-tickets/201920/broadway-philadelphia/Rent
Art Courtesy of Amy Boyle