Local actor Tuazon takes on Angel, one of his biggest roles yet in the SD Musical Theatre production at the Birch
Charlene Baldridge | SDUN Reporter
San Diego Musical Theatre stages “Rent,” the 1996 Tony Award-winning musical, now through July 8 at the Birch North Park Theatre. In addition to the Best Musical award, the late Jonathan Larson, who died prior to the show’s first performance in New York City, ultimately received three Tony Awards for book and lyrics, plus the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
The musical’s plot is based on the Puccini opera “La Bohème” in theme, story, character and music, and concerns a group of penniless, bohemian, artist friends struggling to find a slice of meaning in their New York City lives. Some characters are HIV positive, which is an integral aspect to the story.
To train for his run as the drag queen, street percussionist Angel, San Diego-based singer, dancer and actor Shaun Tuazon said he runs around his College-area home in high heels. For Tuazon, the role is not too huge a stretch – shoe-wise that is – from his recent role in circle circle dot dot’s “Deconstruction of a Drag Queen,” but the singing and dancing in “Rent” are much more challenging and strenuous.
“It’s one of the biggest roles and biggest challenges I’ve ever taken on,” Tuazon said in an interview that took place between “Rent” rehearsals and his fulltime job at San Diego Hospice.
“Angel is intrinsic to the story and I think very much the heart of the show. Everyone is pretty much in a relationship and seems pretty much to be fighting, but Angel is that character that, no matter who you are, everybody loves,” he said. “Not just the cast [but] the audience too. That’s a huge challenge.”
Angel dances in heels for most of the show, Tuazon said, with his first number, “Today 4 U,” one of the most exciting. “He is jumping on tables and jumping on tables,” Tuazon said. “It’s fabulous and fierce. I’m rehearsing that number every day so I can make it very strong.”
Tuazon hails from the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to San Diego in 2005 to attend San Diego State University, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in theater arts. He first drew attention from theatergoers in the title role of the San Diego premiere of “Zanna Don’t,” directed by Ira Bauer-Spector. Since then, Tuazon has been seen at Starlight Musical Theatre in Balboa Park, the Lyric Opera, San Diego Asian American Repertory Theatre, Diversionary Theatre in University Heights and ion theatre in Hillcrest.
Set in the late 1980s when, among other concerns, AIDS was fairly new to national awareness, “Rent” is particularly appropriate for current audiences, Tuazon said.
“The show is still relevant today,” he said. “Our generation can see what the generations before us went through. Because AIDS was a death sentence then, some people just shut down [and] gave up on life. That’s why the support group scene in ‘Rent’ is so beautiful.”
Tuazon said that when he saw the touring production of “Rent,” he was not aware how big the epidemic had been in the 1980s. “AIDS is still one of those things that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should,” he said.
“We have World AIDS Day, we have the red ribbons and many charities donating to the AIDS cause, but I feel like my generation assumes that they are immune … and we don’t have to worry about it,” he said, “but in fact we are still worrying about it and it’s affecting everybody’s lives.”
Again referencing the SDMT production, Tuazon said he feels having family and friends as support systems is important. “In the last line of the show, the full company sings, ‘I’d die without you.’ In effect, if I didn’t have my friends I wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “That’s what makes ‘Rent’ special, beautiful and important.”
Gwen Stewart reprises the role she originated in the first Broadway production of “Rent,” singing the solo vocals for the show’s theme song, “Seasons of Love.” In addition to Tuazon, Smith and Stewart, the show stars Dylan Hunter, Casey O’Farrell, Desmond Newson, Katy Harvey, Nicole Tillman, Ann-Michele Schneider, Marisha Castle, J.D. Driskill, Aaron Meadows, Cordell Mosteller, Leslie Tammone and Tom Vendafreddo.
Ron Kellum directs the production, with Courtney Corey as choreographer. “Rent” plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays, now through July 8 at the Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave. in North Park. Tickets start at $26. For more information and tickets visit sdmt.org or call 858-560-5740.