Many articles have been loaded to this blog that pertain to one particular cast member who has risen above the rest. It is no secret that the cast member who has made the most permanent impact on Cutting Edge Entertainment is our American Idol himself, Justin Guarini. Everyone knows the rough-outline of Justin’s story; he joins the cast of CEE as a just another face wanting to entertain at events, later auditioning for some “unknown” reality TV program and finishes second to another budding superstar, then fades –as most assume- into obscurity. However, it’s never that simple and it’s always more uplifting than assumptions allow.
After the conclusion of his run on American Idol and the subsequent public-thrashing of his movie with fellow alum Kelly Clarkson, Justin stayed true to his goals and continued to work at perfecting his craft. As a host for the TV Guide Network’s coverage of The Oscars, The Grammys and The Emmys, Justin was still in the public eye while keeping his eyes on projects that truly spoke to him. In keeping with that theme Justin returned to one of his first loves, the stage, for a run in several Broadway shows – with a few stops at some local venues, as well, for a role in my favorite show.
Widely known as the show that revived Broadway, at least for a new generation, “Rent” became a staple for the reinvention of the “rock musical”. The Tony-winning musical (1996; Best Musical, Best Book, Best Original Score and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical) spent over twelve years –and 5,124 performances- at one of Broadway’s most underrated houses, the Nederlander Theater. Known as the only working theater south of 42nd street in New York, the Nederlander was the launching pad –excluding its run at the New York Theater Workshop- for a landmark show that “speaks to Generation X the way that the musical Hair spoke to baby boomers”.
After successfully appearing on Broadway in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and in Green Day’s “American Idiot”, Justin tackled a role that not only required the pipes to rule a stage, but also the emotion to portray a powerful, yet tragic character. The role of Roger is one of conflict and pain, but one that reaches for the positive ending even if that conclusion is tough to see. The play follows Roger and his friends (Mark, the filmmaker; Mimi, the exotic dancer and Roger’s new love interest ; Tom, a philosopher anarchist; Angel, the drag queen percussionist with a heart of gold; Maureen, the performance artist and Mark’s ex-girlfriend; Joanne, the lawyer and Maureen’s current girlfriend; and Benny, Mark and Roger’s landlord, ex-roommate and hypocrite) as they struggle to survive in New York’s East Village while dealing with love, drugs, the onset of the AIDS epidemic and the relationships that develop between them.
Being a self-professed “Rent-head” –no, I have not slept outside for tickets in NY or have followed the actors around, but I do know the lyrics to every song and get choked up, every time, during Tom’s reprisal of “I’ll Cover You” during the funeral scene- I struggled to wrap my head around the thought of someone I knew playing the role of one of my favorite stage characters. It was not difficult to imagine Justin playing the role, but this would be the fourth different Roger in my fourth different viewing of the show. His true “star-power” was showcased throughout the performance as he transitioned from a soul lost within his own world and to the wide-eyed dreamer who rediscovers his art and his heart within a new love.
Attending a show within a smaller setting -the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven, NJ – is unlike seeing a performance in New York or downtown Philadelphia, bringing a fresh perspective on the stage itself. This permits an intimacy that is not provided during a large theater setting. The ability to get closer to the actors makes the emotion easier to grasp and allows you to enter the experience and not just watch it. It was a great experience, especially for a first timer –Alicja, who attended the show with me had not seen it previously. Despite the afternoon performance –on a dreary day, no less- and the minimal crowd, which was alluded to during “Maureen’s Performance”, the cast did not falter and presented the show as it was meant to be.
Thank you to the cast and crew for a marvelous performance.
Congratulations, Justin, on making Roger your own. Jonathan Larson would be proud. I know your family at Cutting Edge is.
No Day but Today…