Before they hit the road—launching the Rent tour September 12 in Bloomington, IN—we attended a New York City rehearsal for the 25th anniversary tour of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical to get to know the cast. Read about how each leading player found out they were cast, the first time they saw Rent and a fun fact or two!
Danny Harris Kornfeld
Role: Mark Cohen
Hometown: West Bloomfield, MI
First memory of Rent: It was the first cast album that I ever fully memorized, beginning to end. I remember playing it in the car and trying to get people in my neighborhood into it, too. I don’t think it totally worked, but somewhat.
First time seeing Rent onstage: It was the first show I saw on Broadway when I was 11. Joey Fatone was Mark.
What was your reaction when you got the call that you were cast? I was at intermission of Bright Star, and I checked my phone, and I had a ton of missed calls from someone who works at Joy Dewing’s office—he’s a friend of mine. He was like, “Where are you right now?” So I called him, and he said, “You’re it. You’re the 25th anniversary Mark.” I was like, “No!” He was like, “Yeah, you are.” And then I can’t tell you what happened in Act II of Bright Star.
Fun fact about you: I can’t sleep with my closet door open—monsters are going to come out!
How do you identify with Rent? It’s celebrating what’s unique about everyone. It’s all about inclusion and love and community and celebrating what makes us different. That’s why my favorite number is “La Vie Boheme.” It’s about all the outcasts and celebrating those weird, special different qualities about us.
Role: Roger Davis
Hometown: Hampstead, NH
First memory of Rent: My mom is a huge Renthead. She doesn’t really like a whole lot of musicals, but Rent was one that’s really her style, so I grew up with it as an album that we would listen to—just as music—and I didn’t really get the subject matter. I didn’t really get that it was a musical onstage, but I definitely would say that that led me into performing. We would sing “Seasons of Love.” I knew it as the “Numbers Song.” It was a family car-ride album that we would listen to. It’s three hours of music. That was my first introduction to it.
First time seeing Rent onstage: First stage production I saw was [in] 2006 in Boston. The tour came to Boston, and my mom and I went, and it was just so awesome. I saw my first lesbian couple kiss in front of me, so that was cool! [Laughs.] To be exposed to that at a young age and grow up with the show, now to be doing it as an adult and to be giving that message to other people is just so awesome.
What was your reaction when you got the call that you were cast? I got the phone call at 10 o’clock in the morning, which, for most people, is mid-morning; I was working bar at the time, [and] I just worked a really late shift, so the phone call woke me up. I answered the phone; it was from Joy Dewing Casting: “We’d like to offer you Roger in the 25th Anniversary tour.” I was like, “Okay, cool. That sounds awesome.” I wasn’t fully awake yet, and then I hung up the phone, and I just kind of went, “This is happening, and I’ve got to start planning for it!” It was a whirlwind all of a sudden, waking up to that, and then my entire day was just calling people—calling my mom, calling friends. I think [my mom] was more excited than I am. Any excuse to see this show!
Fun fact about you: I can’t sleep with my feet tucked into the sheets, so all the hotels we’re going to go to, the first thing I’m going to do is kick off that sheet because I cannot have my feet restrained when I sleep.
How do you identify with Rent? I think a lot of people, when they hear Rent, they’re like, “That’s the play about gay people.” I would say that it’s not a play about gay people; it’s not a play about people with AIDS. It’s about people. It’s about people living, despite what your own personal struggles may be, despite whatever is hindering you. It’s just about living in that moment and not thinking about anything else and just appreciating what you have when you have it.
Role: Mimi Marquez
Hometown: Long Island, NY
First memory of Rent: My earliest memory of Rent is sitting in the car at five years old with my mom and my brother belting out those lyrics as a five-year-old, which is special!
First time seeing Rent onstage: I saw it on Broadway. It was not the original cast, but I was still very young to be seeing Rent on Broadway, so it was one of the earlier casts. I was probably ten years old when I saw it. My mother saw the original cast on Broadway about 13 times, and that is not an exaggeration.
What was your reaction when you got the call that you were cast? I was walking down the street in midtown, which is not a great place to start screaming, but I did. The tears came, and I immediately called my mom. She also freaked out and started crying. She is very excited. She is a huge fan. We were actually [already] in rehearsal when [the casting news] was released, and none of us were really aware that it was going to happen, but all of a sudden every phone in the room started vibrating, and we were like, “What’s going on?” And it’s everybody’s friends and family going, “You’re on Playbill!”
Fun fact about you: I’m left-handed. That’s not that fun; I feel like in the artistic world everyone is left-handed.
How do you identify with Rent? Oh my gosh, there are so many reasons I identify with this show. Straight off the bat, it’s a dream to just be a part of it having grown up with it, and it’s always been a huge part of my life—listening to it and singing it. But, also just spreading the message of love and inclusion and being a part of this legacy of performers is amazing. The best way I can describe it is that it’s actually a dream come true, which still feels amazing.
Role: Angel Dumott Schunard
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
First memory of Rent: It was actually the movie. I saw the movie first. I think it was on the television, and I watched it, and I saw Angel, and I thought, “That is a queer individual. It’s not a caricature. It’s not being laughed at. It’s a celebrated, queer individual.” And, I latched onto this character and said, “This is beautiful.” Not only just Angel, but every character is just so varied, and I though, “This is a show.”
First time seeing Rent onstage: I saw a national tour of it. I actually don’t know what company or what production, but it was a national tour. I think I was a freshman in high school, and it was my first time seeing it live, and it was so powerful—so powerful. Also, [I] was the ripe freshman in high school being so impressionable and thinking it was such an amazing thing—seeing a movie I’ve seen so many times onstage. It was so surreal.
What was your reaction when you got the call that you were cast? Tears. Tears. Screaming. Crazy dancing. Limbs everywhere. On the floor. Calling my mom. Calling the dad. I was trying to breathe. Snot. And such happiness.
Fun fact about you: [I have] an identical twin brother named Mark. [We] look alike, but are complete opposites in pretty much everything else.
How do you identify with Rent? Like I said before, Angel is just such a beautiful character, and it’s so incredible to be able to embody Angel now after loving her existence throughout every single production I’ve seen. Every single time, Angel always stands out as this beautiful heart of the show. I loved her energy, and I loved her spirit and what she led by every time she was on that stage and how she approached every single person. I was like, “That is a human being who we can all learn from,” and the fact that I now get to embody her, it’s an inspiration to me daily. I want to be an inspiration just like how it was for me watching it.
Role: Tom Collins
Hometown: Durham, NC
First memory of Rent: MTV or VH1 used to play music videos in the morning, and my sister and I would record whatever the new music videos were and then watch it later. “Seasons of Love” was one of the ones that came on. I didn’t know what it was. Any time I mention Rent, [people] always think, “Season of Love” or they’ll call it the “525,600 Minutes Song.” That’s the same way I found out about it—the “525,600 Minutes Song.”
First time seeing Rent onstage: I first saw it on YouTube, funny enough. I didn’t even see it in person when I first heard about it, so I watched it on YouTube. This is the [final cast filmed live on Broadway] with Michael McElroy—he was playing Collins. I typed in Rent. It was two hours, [and I] watched even through intermission.
What was your reaction when you got the call that you were cast? I screamed, and I cried. I was actually driving at the time when I got the news. They asked me, “Was I pulled over?” In my mind I was like, “I’m pulled over don’t worry about it. What’s up?” They broke the news, and then I pulled over because I was about to cry. I screamed, cried, fluid, snots, tears, everything.
Fun fact about you: [I] originally pursued a career in marketing/PR until making the jump to musical theatre and wasn’t aware of Rent until last year.
How do you identify with Rent? For me, it was just the theme of friendship—having that close-knit group of friends. You hate each other sometimes, you love each other most of the time, but at the end of the day, you’ll always be there for each other. That is probably the most the biggest theme in the show that I relate to the most.
Role: Joanne Jefferson
Hometown: Toledo, OH
First memory of Rent: I was in high school. I was cast as Joanne my freshman year, and it was my very first encounter with musical theatre as a whole. I grew up singing in church, so I did not know what any of this was. I was like, “Let me be in the ensemble, so I can figure out what this is,” but then was [cast] in that role. I remember being in rehearsal like, “What does stage left mean?” But it didn’t matter because we all got tapped into what the show is really about, and that rocked our whole world, and that was just as a freshman in high school that it meant that much.
First time seeing Rent onstage: I’ve actually never seen it onstage. I’ve just seen the movie.
What was your reaction when you got the call that you were cast? I actually auditioned in Memphis and then ended up coming here for the final callback week, and then I think it was maybe a month-and-a-half later that I got a call. I had no idea who was calling, so I answered it regular. And then, once I figured out what was happening, was freaking out and having a moment with the person on the phone and skipped to my apartment the whole way. There were people watching and stuff, but it didn’t matter.
Fun fact about you: I don’t know about fun, but I almost had 11 fingers! It was cut off when I was a baby. It wasn’t big enough to be a finger. It had a nail and everything. They were like, “It’s not big enough,” so they cut it off and sewed it in! I had plenty of people tell me they would not have been my friend; they would not have talked to me.
How do you identify with Rent? Like I said, this show was the very first thing that introduced me to musical theatre. The biggest difference for me was, instead of just being able to sing a song, you can step into the shoes of somebody else, and what happens if a person out there identifies with that life that I’m stepping into? So to be able to come back to that mentality and not only just do it in one location, but take that around the world, it’s rocking my world over these past rehearsal weeks—to know that we’re able to take a message of love, step into that and basically try to teach the world how to do the exact same thing: step into somebody else’s shoes. It doesn’t matter what they’re like. Love. Learn how to love them because we’re all able to be family, whether it’s blood or not.
Role: Maureen Johnson
Hometown: Boston, MA
First memory of Rent: I can remember hearing the song “Seasons of Love” for the first time—just hearing those first chords. I think we are, as theatre people, a little oversaturated with that song at times because everyone really knows it, but when I take a deep breath and remember the first time I heard it and how it just really moved through me, that was a magical moment and made me love the music. I don’t think I stopped listening to the cast album for three months after I heard it for the first time. I just wanted to saturate my brain and my ears with Rent.
First time seeing Rent onstage: I saw it for the first time when I was in high school, when the community theatre did it. That was actually the first one I saw. I saw the movie, and I’ve since done the show. I did it at Syracuse Stage a few years ago. I was Mark’s Mother, which was really great. I really, really wish that I had been able to come out to New York and see it when it was still here. I was too young.
What was your reaction when you got the call that you were cast? My first audition was all the way back in January, and I was out here, in front of this very building [Pearl Studios], at five o’clock in the morning on a chilly January morn—waiting in line. Many months later, I got the call from my agent, and I can remember being on the way to work to my side gig—just about to get onto the subway, and I saw that he was calling me. And, I was floating on air for the rest of the day. I went to my gig, and I thought, “You know what—pretty soon, I’m going to get to just do what I love and have that be the only thing that I have going…” And, I can remember that feeling of freedom, for sure. To be in these roles, too, my first feeling was that I’m not cool enough. I was like, “I am not cool enough to be Maureen. I went to bed at 9:30 last night!” So, I’ve been trying to keep the edge up.
Fun fact about you: My mother was allergic to me when I was in the womb. They say it’s this really rare thing that happens, but sometimes the genetic DNA of the baby does not jive with the mother, and poor Dotty had hives for nine months. Nine months of hives!
How do you identify with Rent? For me, I had my first big rehearsal epiphany watching the actors who play Angel and Collins do “I’ll Cover You.” When we first hear this song, not in the reprise, [you experience] the real message of this show—[to love] regardless of any person’s health status, sexual orientation. The purest moment in the show for me is knowing that when two people love each other, you protect each other, you create your new family, and that was very moving to me to realize that’s really what this show is about, and that’s what’s going to carry us through for a year doing this.
Role: Benny Coffin III
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, FL
First memory of Rent: My first memory is actually the movie of Rent and then going back and finding the original Broadway cast and seeing the tour a few years ago.
First time seeing Rent onstage: For me, it was the tour.
What was your reaction when you got the call that you were cast? When I finally got the Benny call, I was doing a reading at the Flea, and I was trying to keep myself composed, like, “Oh yeah, it’s just another job. It’s nothing.” [Then] I had to call my mom and freak out!
Fun fact about you: Fun fact with me and the show—I understudy Roger, so I get to play both the antagonist and, God forbid anything happens, I’ll be able to go on as the protagonist, which is pretty cool.
How do you identify with Rent? It’s always a dream come true when you get to do a show that you believe whole heartedly. You can stand behind the message of love and community. You don’t always get that. Sometimes, there’s a little fluff going on, and there’s nothing wrong with that—there’s a place for that—but to really sink in and deal with things and be able to support each other and the people that we see on tour—it’s a dream come true, absolutely.
Michael Gioia is the Features Manager at Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.