SALT LAKE CITY — During a whirlwind tour, performing in Utah will be a little bit like coming home for this “Rent” cast member.
Chase McCall was born in Salt Lake City and lived in Bountiful until he was 7 years old. Now, he’s returning to Salt Lake as Steve in the 20th anniversary tour of the hit Broadway musical, “Rent.”
McCall, who is from a very musical family, started taking piano lessons at age 10.
“From there, it just kind of snowballed further into choir and dance classes and musical theater classes,” McCall said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. “And then doing the musicals at school and (at my) community theater.”
McCall first encountered “Rent” when his performing arts high school in North Carolina, Northwest School of the Arts, was considering the show for their fall musical. He found the song “Will I?” as he looked into the musical.
“I was looking up videos — when YouTube was still a new thing — and I stumbled upon that song and it just really struck a chord,” McCall said. “The melody is beautiful, and the message is heartbreakingly beautiful.”
Even with his high school experiences, McCall wasn’t sure if he wanted to pursue musical theater. “It wasn’t really until college that I decided that I wanted to major in it and then make it my career,” McCall said.
Although no aspiring actor has an easy path, McCall has been fortunate. After graduating from Western Carolina University, he was cast in a production of “Footloose” in Florida, which was being produced by RWS Entertainment Group. RWS also produced the shows on the cruise line Holland America Line.
“So I just submitted a bunch of videos to people who I’d already worked with. Soon after I finished working in Florida, I hopped on a cruise ship,” McCall said.
It was the perfect opportunity for the newly minted grad.
“They do pay pretty well,” McCall said. “So financially, it definitely didn’t hurt, (coming) right out of college.”
But even though he was traveling the world following his passion, McCall acknowledged the difficulties of being constantly on the move.
“It’s hard trying to balance the professional and the personal life as an actor constantly on the move,” he said. “You’re uprooting your whole life.”
Despite the hard times, McCall performed on Holland America cruise ships for almost two years.
“It has its ups and downs, like everything else in life, but I think the payoff is worth it,” McCall said. “The ups definitely are greater than the downs.”
His experience on cruise ships led him to a role in a West Coast tour of "A Charlie Brown Christmas Live" in November and December 2017. From there, he auditioned and got his role in the "Rent" 20th anniversary tour.
'Leading with love'
Funnily enough, the very “Rent” song that introduced McCall to the musical way back in high school — “Will I?” — is the solo that Steve, McCall’s character, sings.
“It’s an honor to sing it every night,” McCall said.
“Rent” has had an illustrious history. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Awards for best musical, best book of a musical and best original score after it opened on Broadway in 1996. The critically acclaimed production ran for 12 years, and its original cast featured big names like Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal.
This success gives the actors of the 20th anniversary tour big shoes to fill.
“There’s a little bit of trying to live up to the legacy,” McCall said. “We often do Q&As after shows with audience members and hear them say, ‘I saw it on Broadway originally … and now I’m bringing my kids to see it so they can experience what I did.’ We do our best to honor what they (the original cast members) have done.”
The 20th anniversary tour is supported by several members of the creative team who originally worked on “Rent” in 1996, including choreographer Marlies Yearby, costume designer Angela Wendt, and music supervisor Tim Weil. Now established legends, the original team members give valuable insight to the current cast members.
“It is incredible,” McCall said of his experience with Yearby, Wendt and Weil. “I really try and soak up as much as I can. … I learn something from them every time.”
And although this current tour performs “Rent” with the original staging and choreography, the cast still promises an original experience for its Salt Lake audience.
“We’re doing the same staging. It has the same set and same choreography … but we add our own little flair to it,” McCall said.
“You know, not one person is alike, so not one person can play these characters alike,” he said. “We bring our own selves to it.”
The June performances of “Rent” have felt especially meaningful to McCall. “Touring with such an iconic show like ‘Rent,’ when the message is so positive and so loving, and during Pride month too. … It’s really incredible to be spreading such an awesome message,” McCall said.Comment on this story
Centered on a tight-knit group of artists dealing with poverty and the AIDS crisis in New York City, the songs in “Rent” focus on love and friendship. To McCall, the most important part of the show is “the message of positivity and community, and leading with love."
“It’s just special to see it again after all these years, and that (it’s) still going and it still has the impact that it has 20 years later,” McCall said.
If you go …
What: "Rent" 20th anniversary tour
When: June 25-June 30, times vary
Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main
How much: $35-$140