THE LEADING MEN: "American Idol" Alum Anthony Fedorov Finds a "Season of Love" in Off-Broadway's Rent
By Michael Gioia
July 7, 2012
Anthony Fedorov, up-and-coming musical theatre performer and former "American Idol" contestant, explores the final "Season of Love" in the Off-Broadway revival of Jonathan Larson's Rent, which concludes this summer at New World Stages.
Anthony Fedorov holds the role of Roger close to his heart. The singer-actor, who placed fourth on Season Four of the reality-singing competition "American Idol," has been waiting for years to play the bohemian artist searching for "Glory" outside the walls of his cold and shaggy East Village apartment. After a few auditions for Rent, Fedorov was cast — twice. The actor was slated to perform as Roger Davis at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre until Tony Award-nominated Rent director Michael Greif offered him the role in the current Off-Broadway revival. Prior to Fedorov's Off-Broadway run, we caught up with the star — who talks about the importance of Rent's message — in his final week of rehearsals. After losing his older brother, Denis, to sarcoma in 2006, Fedorov finds himself constantly moved by Jonathan Larson's Tony Award-winning score and the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning show that is Rent.
You have about a week left until your debut in Rent. How are rehearsals going?
Anthony Fedorov: Rehearsals are going great! It's been a really incredible experience, and I haven't even started the show yet. Just living the story out every single time we get on stage to rehearse a number is pretty incredible. I know the show at this point, so now it's about adding those layers and continuing to explore within [that] world… I woke up this morning, and I was like, "Oh, my God. I'm opening next week!" I'm feeling pretty good. I still need about a week of my guitar playing, but I'm almost there. Everything else is coming along nicely.
You've been tweeting about taking guitar lessons…
AF: In two short weeks, I was able to pick up all of the guitar parts. Now I'm just practicing and trying to tighten it up — make it crisper and cleaner.
Did you have any guitar experience going in?
AF: No… I actually bought a guitar a few months before I got cast because I was slated to do the 5th Avenue [Theatre] production of Rent in Seattle, so I started nimbling on the guitar when I got [cast]. As far as learning these parts, this is really the first time I'm playing them. [Laughs.] It's pretty cool. I was a little bit nervous in the beginning because I [thought], "I don't know if I can learn all of this in a short amount of time," but I was able to do it…and being a lefty makes it that much more special.
You found yourself simultaneously cast in two productions of Rent?
AF: I was supposed to [play Roger] at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, and then I got cast in this production, so I ended up doing it here in New York. Unfortunately, I had to pull out of the Seattle production. It really was a difficult decision because I love Seattle. I love the theatre community out there, and they really helped me believe in myself — that I could do this. I was really looking forward to coming back to the 5th Avenue stage [following a stint as the title character in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 2009], but when [Off-Broadway's Rent director], Michael Greif, called me — two hours after my audition — he said, "We want to have you for the part." Everybody in Seattle was really supportive, and they understood.
Fedorov in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
photo by Paul Lyden
You're stepping into the production July 11 alongside Natalie Wachen as Mimi. Tell me about working opposite her in rehearsals.
AF: She's a really, really great actor. There are a lot of layers to her Mimi, and the thing that I appreciate the most is that she has this really honest, fragile approach. She's strong when she needs to be, yet there are times when she's really fragile and really weak. She has all these different layers to Mimi — you just want to take care of her. You want to find out what's going on with this person. She brings a lot of depth to the role.
The Roger-Mimi dynamic is so interesting. What were the conversations you had with Natalie in rehearsals? For example, do you think Mimi cheated on Roger with Benny?
AF: Well, we talked about these things with Michael Greif. When we first sat down, he kind of gave us the back-story and the history about what he thinks has happened and what is happening [between Roger and Mimi]. The one thing that we did talk about when it comes to Roger and Mimi is the desire to fight against [what] you already know and the difficulty of that. Especially for Roger — he knows that he cares about Mimi, but yet he doesn't want to get involved with her because he already lost somebody that he loved. And, Mimi — she's all in. It was a difficult process for me to mentally get to that point, where I knew exactly what I needed to do. But Natalie kind of seemed on point with what she needed to do from the very beginning. Michael Greif really pointed us in the right direction.
I'm not sure if she slept with Benny, to be honest with you. I don't think that it's something that we discussed, but [Michael Greif] did leave that to our imagination, and we can have the freedom to use it if we choose.
What have you been discovering about Roger in rehearsals?
AF: Well, Roger is faced with a lot of regret. He's a very self-hating character. From what I understand, he's the one who gave [his former girlfriend], April, AIDS because he's the one who introduced her to drugs. There's that part of him that really doesn't feel like he should be alive — in my opinion — or that he doesn't deserve happiness because, in his eyes, he killed somebody else. But, at the same time, he has so much life in him, and he has so much desire to write this "one great song" — to leave some kind of imprint in this world before he goes. It's a difficult thing to wrap your mind around. And, it's been quite an interesting journey for me so far.
I'm sure that the character has struck a chord with you. You've talked openly about how your older brother, Denis, passed away from sarcoma in 2006. Here, you're taking on a character who is HIV-positive and faces loss all around him.
AF: Well, the thing that I said from the very beginning when I got cast in this role — and the reason I've been dying to play this character — is because I feel like it's going to be very therapeutic for me. With losing my brother, it wasn't to HIV, but it was to a disease that kills quickly. And, I'm now forced to deal with a lot of the feelings that I've been suppressing over the past six years, so I'm very much in tune with Roger in that respect — I know loss firsthand. I don't have to try to get into character, per say. The second we start, I'm already in that space — I'm already in that mind frame — because now I have to deal with death. I have to deal with all of these things that I've suppressed. Now I think that it will kind of help me — help my heart and my soul — heal by doing this show and living out all of this pain.
I'm sure that it's been thrilling to take on the material considering its message — "Measuring Your Life in Love" and "No Day But Today"…
AF: Yeah… To be honest with you, I've been pretty much crying every night watching this show, and I'm not even in it yet! Every song in there, I can relate to. I can relate to it firsthand, and what makes this show so magical is that there are so many lessons that the audience gets to learn when they see this musical. Like you said, "No Day But Today" and "Will I Lose My Dignity"… All of these songs have such a deep meaning. I relate to every one of these numbers in one way or another, and it really strikes a chord in me every time.
Julie Craig and Anthony Fedorov in The Fantasticks.
photo by Joan Marcus
Were you ever a RENThead?
AF: [Laughs.] No, I was never a RENThead, but I have a lot of close friends who have done the Broadway production. And, Rent has been such a huge part of their lives, so I've seen them perform and always wanted to be a part of the show — to experience and see what it's like — so this is really a dream come true for me.
Who did you see play Roger in the Broadway production?
AF: If I'm not mistaken, I saw Will Chase as Roger.
Watching you on "Idol" — when you first walked into the audition room at 19 years old and with glasses — you seemed to exude more of a Mark "type." Were you always a Roger or is this a stretch?
AF: It's interesting because when I was [auditioning] for the 5th Avenue production, they wanted to see me for Mark. They didn't even see me as a Roger, but after I sang all the Mark [material], I asked, "Can you please just let me do one song for Roger?" And they said, "Okay." I sang "Your Eyes," and then the next day, they said, "Forget about the Mark sides. Focus on Roger. You're a Roger." [Laughs.] Inside I always saw myself as Roger, but on the outside — for a long time — I looked like Mark. Vocally, though, I've always been Roger. I have a rock-tenor voice, so it's always been my part.
You've played clean-cut roles such as Matt in Off-Broadway's The Fantasticks, the Prince in Cinderella and Link Larkin in Hairspray. Roger is a "180." Are you finding your inner rocker?
AF: The thing is, this is who I am on the inside. This is who I am and what the audience will have a chance to see. They'll have a chance to see some of my deeper feelings that I don't bring out in public — that I hold inside and suppress. They'll get a chance to see more of a complete person this time around. I've been playing these happy-go-lucky roles, but this is more in tune with who I am as a human being at this point in my life.
Fedorov in Hairspray
Does it excite you to take on more dramatic material and really delve deep?
AF: It's scary [and] exciting, but I'm looking forward to this challenge. I still consider myself an up-and-coming actor… I never went to acting school, I never had any kind of acting experience, and this is just an incredible opportunity for me to learn and dig as deep as I possibly can to see what I can bring out. It's going to be an incredible challenge. It's not going to be easy — I know that — but I'm looking forward to it. I'm scared and excited at the same time. I think that's part of who Roger is. He's scared, but he wants to leave a mark in this world before he goes.
Are you feeling scared because the character of Roger is so exposed, in a sense?
AF: Yeah. I will have to show my inner demons playing this role, and that's a little scary. When I did Joseph, I had to be naked in a loin cloth in front of 2,000 people every night, and that didn't scare me as much because I didn't have to show what was on the inside. This is something where I really have to bare my soul and just lay it out there — "Here's what scares me the most. Here's what makes me lose sleep at night. Here it is."
When did you get "bit" by the musical theatre bug?
AF: I got bitten by the theatre bug when I did The Fantasticks back in 2007. I fell in love with it. I was so nervous and excited at the same time. And, I had the pleasure of working with Tom Jones, the writer [and lyricist] of the show, [who also played the character of Henry]. He gave me a lot of really great advice. Just watching that man crawl out of that box night in and night out as if he's never done it before… It really gave me a lot of inspiration. It's not just singing; it's not just dancing or acting. It's everything put together. It's a different form of expression, and you get to create beautiful moments with your castmates. It's an incredible art form, and it's no longer something that I want to do until my music takes off, so to speak… That was my thinking process back in '07. I thought, "I'll do musical theatre until my record takes off, and then I'll just hope to sell my music." But now it's a part of me, so no matter what happens with my music career, I'm still going to be doing musical theatre. And, I'd love to transition into film and TV… It's a part of who I am.
Fedorov on "American Idol."
I read on your website that you were born with a birth defect that might have prevented you from becoming a singer. Now you've taken on both "Idol" and musical theatre…
AF: Yes. When I was a toddler, I had a tracheotomy because I couldn't breathe. They had to cut a hole in my neck, basically, and perform this procedure. I was breathing out of a tube for about the first four years of my life… I have been extremely blessed. I have some amazing people who believe in me and continue to push me to do what I love. It's been a great journey for me so far. And, I owe everything to "Idol" because "Idol" opened up these doors for me. I've tried to distance myself from the show over the years because you want to get to a point in your career when you're no longer "that kid from 'American Idol'." Having said that, I always acknowledge the fact that without "Idol," I wouldn't be anywhere. I'm extremely grateful to that show for giving me a chance, and these last six years have really been up to me. It's been up to me to make it happen, and now I really get to play a role of a lifetime. I have several shows on my bucket list, and [Rent] is one of the shows that I now get to cross off.
What other shows and/or roles are among your bucket list?
AF: Jesus Christ Superstar, definitely. I want to play Jesus and Judas. I would love to do Les Miz at some point. I know right now I look old enough to play Marius, but I definitely would love to — in like 20-25 years — get on that stage and start singing, "God on high, hear my prayer…" [Laughs.]
Tell me a bit about your music career. Your first album, "Never Over," was released last year?
AF: Yeah. We released my album, "Never Over," last year. It's a very rewarding project that I got the chance to do because these are all my original songs. And, I dedicated this album in my brother's memory. I wrote the song ["Never Over"] for him when he was sick…
You've recently been a part of the Broadway Sings for Pride and Broadway Backwards concerts. Is there any chance you'll debut your original music while you're in New York?
AF: That's one of the things that we're discussing right now, so I'm hoping that will happen at some point during my run. I think it would be great.
Rent just announced its closing date. Does this put a damper on going in?
AF: It's not something that makes me feel too good, but what makes it special is that I get to close out the show. We're going out with a bang, and I get to be a part of it. It's not going to be for [the originally scheduled] six months; it's only going to be for a couple of months. But like I said, even rehearsals have been such a blessing. I can't wait to do two months of it. It's sad, but what can you do? "No Day But Today," right?
(Michael Gioia's work frequently appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)