The globally known musical Rent continues on with a 20th-anniversary tour that began last year.
The storybased on Giacomo Puccini's La Bohemewas transformed by Jonathan Larson into a tale about HIV/AIDS set in New York. On Broadway it resonated with audiences running for more than 5,000 performances and earned a Tony for Best Musical.
Newcomer David Merino is coming out in a big way as the unforgettable trans percussionist character Angel Dumott Schunard in the show. Windy City called him on the road to learn more about him.
Windy City Times: Where in the world are you touring today?
David Merino: I am in Boston. I love it here so far.
WCT: It is no Chicago, but a great city nonetheless…
DM: I have never been to Chicago, so I cannot confirm or deny. I cannot wait to go to Chicago.
WCT: How old are you? Can you get into the bars?
DM: I am 21.
WCT: Just in time! You can go to Sidetrack for Musical Mondays.
DM: Our cast is going and will be singing there. We are excited!
WCT: Where are you from, originally?
DM: I am originally from Los Angeles. I lived there all my life, then moved to New York to go to school there. I studied musical theater at the Tisch School of the Arts.
WCT: Did you always want to be a performer?
DM: Yes, basically from the beginning. I didn't start doing theater until the sixth grade. I was always singing and dancing as a baby, my parents say.
WCT: Your parents are supportive of your career?
DM: Very much so. Like for a lot of people, it was a rocky start. Of course, my parents were a bit scared of me committing my life to the rejection. Talent can be a very hard thing to invest in for parents, especially when they don't know what it's like. Now they are the most supportive people, and I love them so much.
WCT: What is your family's background?
DM: My mom is Mexican. My father is Spanish, Polish and Israeli. I'm a good ol' mixing pot of things!
WCT: Is Rent your big debut?
DM: It is. I have only performed in community theater or my schools. This is my first paid gig. It is the biggest dream come true. You have no idea. I have always wanted to play this role professionally.
WCT: I have heard good things about you playing the part of Angel.
DM: That is exciting. I feel I am born to play this role. I feel I have a connection with Angel. There are similarities. There is a way she was written that I was meant to play. I don't know what other role I am meant for, but this is what it is!
It is so amazing to do this every day.
WCT: Did you watch the movie?
DM: The first thing I did was see the movie in late elementary school. My family was not a big theater family so I immersed myself in it. It was on TV one day and I fell in love with Angel. She was the first queer character that wasn't the butt of a joke. She wasn't laughed at or a caricature. She was living her best life the way she wanted it. She is the most open and loving person on the screen. She was my everything.
WCT: Sounds like you connected with Angel on a personal level.
WCT: That must read across from the stage?
DM: I would imagine it does. There is a visceral feeling I have when performing. There is a natural vibe around it. It doesn't feel like I am putting it on.
To become Angel I just put on her clothes and here I go. Whatever I feel in the moment works and I am very happy with it.
WCT: Did you try on the past costumes of other Angels?
DM: Yes. That was one of the first days of the process, before rehearsals even started. I was in tears. The costume people were so over me. I was just a queen trying on skirts, tights, and heels. I was screaming!
It was the craziest time-capsule moment.
WCT: Do you have your own take on Angel?
DM: I didn't approach Angel like any other Rents. It was what I felt and what I got from her. I think when people see Rent, especially the 20th anniversary, they see us mounting the show exactly what it was in the original. People expect Angel or Maureen to act a certain way. I think everyone in the cast, including myself, [tries] a fresh take on it while not removing any of the original charm of the character.
With the guidance of the director I was told to think of Doris Day. So I keep her gentle, beautiful, and pretty. It is hard not to feel pretty in the makeup and the costumes.
WCT: Did you know who Doris Day is, [with you] being so young?
DM: I ran to YouTube and watched every video that I could find of her. She is totally it!
WCT: Do you have a favorite song from Rent?
DM: There is a part of me that is in love with the character Mimi, so I love her music. I love "Out Tonight" and "Without You."
My favorite song to perform is "I'll Cover You." It is about falling in love. My partner Aaron Harrington who plays Tom Collins is so incredible. It's so fun to perform with him every night.
With "La Vie Boheme," we get to goof off and have fun with each other. We dive into a 10-minute long party.
WCT: Did original cast member Anthony Rapp attend the kickoff to the tour?
DM: He has not come yet, but he sent us a FaceTime message. This is the original creative team so they know everyone. Many of the Broadway and past tour cast members came. It was a huge honor that the Rent family was there. They sent us off and wished us luck to share the story across America.
WCT: I saw Rent on a small stage in Chicago recently. How does it translate with a big space?
DM: There is something intimate about it. I have been in it twice before this, once in California before I went to college, in a 70-seat house. It is so powerful when the last row of the theater is just a few feet away from you. It is a special connection.
The fact is that I still feel the energy with [more than] 3,000 seat housesall the way to the back row and balcony. This is how powerful this show is. It shows how passionate the fans are as well.
WCT: Do you have plans after the tour?
DM: I am going back to school, because I left before my senior year. I am registering for classes on Monday, so I will be back full swing. I will be graduating in December.
Who knows what New York will offer me next?
Rent is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St, May 9-14. Tickets can be purchased atBroadwayInChicago.com .