Paper Mill Playhouse is featuring the cast and creative team for Rent by Jonathan Larson, directed by Zi Alikhan (resident director of the national tour of Hamilton) and choreographed by Steph Paul. The production stars Olivia Lux (RuPaul’s Drag Race) as Angel Schunard.
Rent is based loosely on Puccini’s La Bohème. Larson’s Rent follows a year in the life of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York City’s Lower East Side in the shadow of HIV/AIDS. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Rent has become a pop-cultural phenomenon with songs that rock and a story that resonates with audiences of all ages. Jersey girl Olivia Lux takes us from RuPaul’s Werk Room to the Paper Mill Playhouse stage.
What was the process of landing the role of Angel?
Olivia Lux: It had been years since I formally auditioned for a musical, so I knew this was going to be a challenge for me. From getting new headshots, brushing up on my audition song materials, and remembering how to present myself in the audition room — it was wild! I met with the team and after hours of singing through songs it was left up to the “theatre gods” what was the outcome of my fate. Needless to say, I think it worked out for me!
In what ways are you and Angel alike and different?
OL: Out of all the musical theatre characters I have ever encountered, Angel has always been the character that I related to the most. Angel seems to have a positive outlook on every situation and obstacle they encounter. I try my best to always look on the brighter side of things, every chance I can get.
Is this your first theatre role?
OL: This is 100 percent not my first theatre role. I went to university for musical theatre and have studied and performed for many years. I have actually played the role of Angel twice in my younger years!
When did you discover your love for performing?
OL: I think my love for performing started to form when my family purchased a karaoke machine for our living room. We would have karaoke nights where all of us would perform, and that is where my love of music started to bloom. I wanted to be a musician and started taking clarinet lessons, which later turned into piano lessons. I was in band, then in high school, I started to sing and eventually joined the drama club. Fast forward, and now I’m a full-blown drag queen — go figure?!
Have you ever seen a performance of Rent and what were your thoughts?
OL: In college, my best friend was obsessed with Rent. She let me borrow her DVD of the anniversary performance that was filmed. I remember by the end barely being able to see the TV screen because my eyes were filled with tears. I remember thinking to myself how beautiful the piece was and how I wanted to live my life from then on. “No Day but Today” really stuck with me. I think that was the first time I had ever cried while viewing art.
What was the selection process like when you ended up on RuPaul’s Drag Race?
OL: Each year they receive thousands of tapes from around the country. The audition tapes are quite long with a lot of details and information. You have to present all the materials, but the challenge is making it fun and exciting. You wait months to hear back and bam.
How has drag changed your life?
OL: Drag has allowed me to be my authentic self through expression. It has enabled me to explore stories and reflect on a lot of my own experiences. It is therapeutic. It connects you to the community — it has completely changed my entire life for the better.
What is dating life like being a drag performer?
OL: I have never found difficulty in being a drag artist and sharing that part of me. I guess the only difficulty I have had in the dating realm after becoming a full-time drag artist and being on Drag Race is picking the right nightlife establishment to meet up at for drinks. There are a lot of options!
What was your coming-out story?
OL: I am very fortunate to have a supportive family. I am very close with them and when I came out in high school it was extremely normal. Almost too normal. For a while, I was very insecure about my positive coming-out story, and felt ashamed that I was so lucky while others were sharing opposite experiences. I have grown to speak out though, mainly because I do want young folks to know it is possible to find common ground with family. It is possible to maintain a relationship, and furthermore coming out can sometimes make your relationships stronger.
What do you want to tell the younger generation of the LGBTQ community who are struggling with coming out?
OL: Find your tribe! You are not alone in this and you have so many folks that are on your team. Social media is a great tool now to connect and visibly see people with similar identities thriving and sharing their stories. When the time is right for you, surround yourself with those resources.
How long will you be playing Angel and what are your upcoming projects?
OL: I will be playing Angel for the full run at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn until July 2nd! For the rest of the summer, I have a few unannounced projects, but let’s just say one of them involves me stepping back on stage in a pair of sparkly red high-heel boots!
Rent is at Paper Mill Playhouse through Sunday, July 2, 2023.
Paper Mill Playhouse offers its audiences the opportunity to enhance their theater experience with behind-the-scenes views of mainstage productions, including a Q&A with the cast held live in the theater after the matinee on June 24. Paper Mill Prologues and The Director’s Viewpoint will be available to everyone on-demand in the Paper Mill Playhouse mobile app. Paper Mill Playhouse offers award-winning access programs and services, including audio-described performances on Saturday, June 24, at 1:30 pm and Sunday, June 25, at 1:30 pm (sensory seminars for the blind are held at noon), as well as an open-captioned and ASL-interpreted performance on Sunday, June 25, at 7 pm. Braille and large-print programs and assistive listening devices are available.
Tickets starting at $35 may be purchased by calling 973-376-4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Dr. in Millburn, or online at papermill.org. Groups of 10 or more may receive up to a 30% discount on tickets and should call the box office. Students may purchase $20 tickets. Patrons under 30 years old may purchase tickets for $30 for any performance.