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Broadway Favorite Rent is Back with a New Venue, New Star

Q&A with Adam Chanler-Berat

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Adam Chanler-Berat as Mark in Rent

Adam Chanler-Berat as Mark in Rent. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Adam Chanler-Berat made his Broadway debut as Henry in Next to Normal, a production he had been involved with from the very beginning at Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage and Off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre. He recently finished creating the role of Peter in Peter and the Starcatcher at New York Theatre Workshop.

Chanler-Berat is now starring as Mark Cohen in the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, Rent, at New World Stages. Opening night is set for Thursday, August 11th, 2011.

Nick Orlando spoke with Chanler-Berat about Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking musical and his career.

Nick Orlando: Rent is back in New York! Were you a Rent fanatic growing up?

Adam Chanler-Berat: I don’t know what qualifies as a fanatic, but I remember trying to convince a non-theatre friend to listen to the soundtrack. It’s a rock score. The whole generation loves this piece and how could you not?

Nick Orlando: What does this musical mean to you, and how has it changed your life?

Adam Chanler-Berat: It fell into my life at a perfect time. The show is about community, the families we choose as opposed to the families we have. It’s the perfect show to fit into my life.

Nick Orlando: How would you describe your character, Mark Cohen?

Adam Chanler-Berat: He’s struggling to find how he fits into this world and how he can make an impact. It’s a constant struggle of how he can make a difference.

How did you prepare for the role?

Adam Chanler-Berat: It took a lot of preparation. It’s a period piece, in a way. We are a younger generation. We had to educate ourselves on what the AIDS epidemic meant in the early '90s. We did a lot of research as a company. I viewed a great documentary called Paris is Burning. My research has been in the film genre. Michael [Greif] encouraged us to make this piece our own. He was generous and open for new ideas, a fresh take. It’s a story he knows very well. He has a hard job – to recreate something that he has made.

Nick Orlando: What have the first few previews been like?

Adam Chanler-Berat: The first preview was wild. It was a total rock concert. It felt like a Beatles concert, and I felt like a rock star. New York is embracing the return of this show and I am very happy.

Nick Orlando: And the interaction with the fans?

Adam Chanler-Berat: The fans have been surprisingly open and accepting to this new version of the show. We recently had two women in the audience who saw the Broadway production 150 times. This is a new experience for me because there are a lot of expectations. It’s a new generation on that stage now. Some of the original fans might feel threatened!

Nick Orlando: Michael Greif is directing and he also directed you in your Broadway debut in Next to Normal. Did he ask you to audition?

Adam Chanler-Berat: He did. I remember him telling me back at Second Stage for Next to Normal that I would make a good Mark. My heart stopped! I always imagined or dreamed of it happening, but then Rent closed. When I heard about the revival, my heart stopped again. The musical is coming back at the right time, especially after the closing of The Normal Heart. I think he, or one of the producers, called my agent. I was asked to come in, which was lovely and surprisingly.

Nick Orlando: Which song do you connect with the most?

Adam Chanler-Berat: Wow, tough question. “Seasons of Love” is iconic, everyone understands what that song is about. It varies from day to day. I feel like I was born to play Mark. I love all of his songs – “Halloween,” “What You Own.”

Nick Orlando: How does this production of Rent compare with the others?

Adam Chanler-Berat: The text is the same. We are honoring Jonathan Larson. There is a new video component to the show, which mirrors a change in Mark. The staging is new and exciting. The set and lights are different. It doesn’t look like the Rent you’d expect.

Nick Orlando: What are your thoughts on New World Stages? Avenue Q and Million Dollar Quartet have both made their transfer from Broadway to New World.

Adam Chanler-Berat: It’s a great place to be. It feels to me like we are on Broadway. The size of the house rings so perfect. The shows that have transferred from Broadway to here can use the intimacy. I couldn’t believe that more. Rent obviously still has the rock opera score and our band is kick-ass. The storytelling is much more intimate.

Nick Orlando: Earlier this year, you created the role of Peter in Peter and the Starcatcher. There were rumors that the production might transfer to Broadway. Is there any truth to that?

Adam Chanler-Berat: The rumors are still out there. I’m hearing good things. It’s been a while since the show closed. I think people are taking it seriously. Our last week at the NYTW was sold out. We had a line out of the theatre in the East Village. More people need to see that show. It was a celebration of theatre that doesn’t happen often. This is about Peter Pan!

Nick Orlando: When you were cast as Henry in Next to Normal, did you ever imagine that role would take you to your Broadway debut?

Adam Chanler-Berat: Never! I was worried I would get fired. They kept asking me back. Then, when we were heading to Broadway, they didn’t put Michael Cera in the role of Henry, so I was thrilled. I was pulled out of college. I knew this piece was special, we all did. I’m so happy and honored that Michael has attached me to these two pieces. I am incredibly lucky.

Read Adam Chanler-Berat's tips for actors trying to make it on Broadway.

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