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Table Talk w/Marcus John of ‘RENT’

So, there’s this Tony Award owning, life changing legendary Broadway extravaganza called RENT...anyone ever hear of it?

Of course…the entire universe has as the dearly departed Jonathan Larson‘s rock musical about of a group of depleted young artists struggling to survive and create a life in Lower Manhattan’s East Village under the shadow of HIV/AIDS isn’t just one of the most iconic theater events that ever took over The Great White Way, but the fact that every single show for the 20th anniversary national tour takeover at the Merriam Theater this week has been completely sold out for months now..

……so, yeah, we’re all aware and more than ready for a RENT Philly takeover.

Just on a little side note…..for those of you who may not have been able to grab those tickets for this week’s round of shows, there’s some good news…it’s coming back to the Merriam this October 8th-10th and there’s still tickets left!! So, you should absolutely head to the Kimmel Center’s website and sing it out for those seats…right now. 

But wait there’s more…….so, you really, really want to revel in this legendary show and kick it with this incredible touring cast this week, right? Well, it just so happens that..you can. After you’ve picked your “Seasons of Love” lovin’ self up off of the floor, make those plans now as the incredibly talented cast—including Benny aka University of the Arts graduate Marcus John, whom you’ll delightfully get to know in just a second–will be taking part in Cabaret for a Cause at the Arts Bank Theatre at the University of Arts this Thursday night, March 7th!

Not only will you be able to revel in all of these fine actors and actresses’ talents and then some, but your ticket will get you in a raffle to win a pair of tickets to the closing night of the show this Sunday, March 10th. Also, being that these crazily talented kids are all about the “Love,” all proceeds will be donated to the incredible David Jenkins Memorial Scholarship Fund, which you can learn more about by clicking right here.

Okay, so putting the well deserved Philly spotlight back on Mr. Marcus John. Not only has he been simply crushing it with this esteemed production in the role of Benny (he’s not so bad, right?) but all-in-all, he’s just a really good guy serving out all kinds of chill, professional vibes that you should absolutely get to know…right now. 

Kicking things off at the table, and I personally thank you for taking time out of your bonkers touring schedule to chat, you and the cast have certainly been made aware that the Philly engagements of RENT this week have been sold out for quite some time! Does that add any added pressure on the cast at all? Maybe just a little?? The shows sell out quite frequently, especially in the bigger cities that we hit up. It’s really the legacy of RENT selling the tickets, we just do our thing regardless! Whether in the big cities or in a small town, we strive to give that same great performance to everybody. 

What does it mean to you personally to be a part of Jonathan Larson’s Broadway legacy? It all just definitely hits you when the show starts and when you see the crowd packing in. Having that many people [each night], it usually means that we’re going to have a responsive audience. It’s huge just to be part of something that’s so iconic and bigger than yourself. It’s just an exciting, exciting feeling just to be a part of this! 

Have you or the cast had a chance to meet any of the original Broadway cast? Actually, we have Not too long ago we met Rodney Hicks who was in the original run [as Benjamin Coffin III]. We’ve also gotten the chance to meet Jonathan Larson‘s Dad as well. 

Oh, yeah? What was that meeting like? He was really cool. He’s still good friends with our music supervisor, so anytime we’re in the area he tries to come and say hi. I’ve also spoken to Taye Diggs over the phone once, he played the original Benny (in the ’05 film version), so getting a chance to chat with him was really, really cool. 

Let’s spill some tea about those famed RENT audiences. Do you guys feel different vibes from different audiences being that at times this a heavy, heavy show? It’s definitely different. Sometimes we’re in parts of the country that don’t necessarily agree with the themes of the show, [those audiences] can be a bit more reserved. But there’s other cities where they know [the show] and sing along and get right into it. It’s a little bit of a crap shoot what kind of audience you’re going to get, but it’s mainly positive all the way no matter where we are. 

As someone who’s been doing your professional thing for quite some time now, do you ever feel nerves take over before a show..especially with RENT? Nerves aren’t really a thing anymore, honestly. As far as touring and performing, I’m going on about six years professionally and two years with this show, so it’s not so much nerves, but more focusing your energy. You know when you do something 200 plus times over the course of a year or two, you’re less worried about being nervous or whether if it’s going to go right because you know exactly what’s going to happen. You also want to make sure that regardless of what’s going on in your personal life, you can still give your best show. Just focus on being in the moment! 

From one artist to another, I’m sure you can agree that when personal mistakes are made, it takes a toll personally.. Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But it’s basically up to you to get over it. Mistakes will drive you crazy, but nobody cares! Even if they do, each audience will be a brand new batch of people who won’t know anything about it. You just can’t carry self criticisms with you. 

Closing out our spill, I just want to go to Lady Gaga’s Oscar acceptance speech about keeping it all going and being brave. Have there been any times in your career that you truly had to dig deep to find that strength to keep it moving? It happens non-stop because in our career, you’re constantly looking for the next job, constantly auditioning, which can lead to always being told no. So, you never really “make it” because no matter how many times you do a big show or tour, everything has to end. I guess I feel brave every time I go into an audition room or hear back right away…like this show. I actually didn’t hear back after the audition for a year. But it came around and they wanted me to audition again, I had to check with myself if I was ready to go through the rejection again if it’s happens…how can I get confident again and not harp on that, so it’s been a little bit of a journey and the second time around paid off! 

For much more with Marcus John and the exceptional 20th anniversary touring cast of RENT, you should absolutely check this out..now. 

Are you a local or legendary entertainer who’s slaying your craft and want the whole wide world to pay attention? Well, please don’t be shy (there are never any Miranda Priestly‘s here) and slay it up with Philly Mixtape right here and here and let’s have everybody take a seat to you and your talents! 

Marcus John cover photo courtesy of Broadway World 

 

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Holiday Tea w/Philip Huffman of ‘The Grinch’

A story that truly needs no introduction as Dr. Seuss’ famed tale of How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been making hearts grow for over fifty years!

But perhaps it’s told even better when it’s alive on stage and intertwined with incredible music and of course, tons of holiday spirit!

Luckily for the entire tri-state area, we’ll get to experience all of that stage magic and so much more as the traveling production is now calling the grand stage at the Merriam Theater home–make that Whoville–until December 29th! 

While we could spill holiday tea until well past New Year’s about what an enchanting show this is and just how little Cindy Lou Who will tug at your heartstrings (Philly Mixtape got to witness it all on opening night and you may just need a tissue or two, who), it’s best to sip a little tea with the star of it all, Mr. Philip Huffman….

……or as everyone will get to know him as….The Grinch

Mr. Huffman recently took a seat and had some tea at the holiday table where he broke mugs about his background, what it takes to play such an iconic character and what we should all take away from this beloved story.

Get to know him below, and then get those tickets because this is one show that you and the whole family do not want to miss this Philly holiday season!! 

Hey, Philip! Thank you so much for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to spill some holiday tea! Kicking things off at the table, spill for everyone a little bit about your acting background. Well, I’ve been living in New York for the past fifteen years. I’ve also been traveling around opening shows on cruise ships and doing guest entertainer jobs. I’ve also studied with cultural theater in Australia, as well as with a lot of regional theater around the country, which includes doing The Grinch for the past three years!

So, cruise ships? That must be a lot of fun.  It is! For one, you get to travel the world and you’re exposed to a lot of different cultures, which is nice.

Any favorite places you’ve ever been to? Spain. I’ve been pretty much anywhere you want to go in the world, but Spain is just full of beautiful culture and incredible people. It’s just a very kind and happy place..it’s just a beautiful country.

Now, on to some Grinch business. What was the audition process like for this truly coveted role? I first auditioned for the show, then I had about five more call backs because [it all] needed to be approved by the artistic team, by the producers and by the creative team. It was a strenuous role to get…a lot of people wanted it! So, there was a lot of competition for it. It’s a fun role because as an actor, you already know you’re going to be beloved by the audience because the character is so beloved, well, by everyone! I don’t think there’s anyone out there who says that they don’t love The Grinch.

What were some of the things they were looking for in finding the perfect Grinch? You go in, and at first you have your own selection of music. They also look at your physical stature and if you’re entertaining in the role. When they call you back, they’ll give you music to learn and you just prepare as much as you can! And of course, give it your all. 

What would you say is the most important part in portraying this character? I would say the most important part is…that you have to love the joy of the holidays! Even though The Grinch is portrayed as someone who detests the Whos and detests Christmas, [he’s someone] who longs to participate in the community and to be accepted in the festivities. So, if you don’t have the desire of enjoying the holidays, you’re probably not going to get the full effect of The Grinch! I also think you have to stay away from the word “angry” when it comes to describing him. It’s more about his loneliness and isolation, which is something we can all relate to at some point in our lives, and I think that’s what makes him so relatable and why this story has transcended through so many generations. 

Truly, there’s so many elements to take away from this story, what do you think the most important one is?  I think it’s the beliefs that are unfounded by facts. The Whos down in Whoville understand without even going to talk to the Grinch, without knowing him and understanding where he’s from that they tell the children to be afraid of him…..to fear the unknown. It’s interesting to see how in society that can happen without even noticing it. I think the biggest message is not falling into the trap of believing something that you’re being told is true. It’s best to invest openly and to draw your own conclusions. If it’s not for Cindy Lou Who, who’s a nice embodiment of innocence in the show that takes on the crusade to go ahead and not believe that the Grinch shouldn’t be included in everything. Sometimes I like to think of him as the crotchety old man down the street that all of the kids are scared to go near his house! But as they get to know him, they realize that he’s not so crotchety! 

Almost like the mean, old neighbor in ‘Home Alone’….. Yes! Absolutely. 

So, any plans while you’re in town? I’m sure The Grinch might have a few…I’ll be popping around as [him] quite a bit. It’s always fun to check out different cities as The Grinch because they truly treat you to nothing but the best! It’s also fun to be here right now because they’ve been trying to get the show [here] for thirteen years, so Philly is going to be a lot of fun to parade through! 

For much, much more with Mr. Huffman and the rest of the talented cast of ‘The Grinch,” guide your sleigh right here

Happy holidays, Philly! 

Cover photo courtesy of the Kimmel Center  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 Reasons Why Everyone Should Experience ‘The Nutcracker’ This Philly Holiday Season

Oh, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker..….where do we truly begin? 

How about with right around this time tomorrow night (and through New Year’s Eve!) that magnificent curtain will rise up at the Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music and give way to what’s sure to be another annual dazzling display of this acclaimed production presented by the astounding, Pennsylvania Ballet

While the reasons listed below are served up as a fine case as to why kids from one-to-ninety-two should experience the magic of lots (and lots!) of sugarplums dancing around their heads all month long thanks to this beacon of a show, but what it truly comes down to are four little-yet-gigantic words….

………support the local arts! Because it all truly doesn’t get any better or magical than what you’re about to get lost in when The Nutcracker takes over our Philly holiday lives once again.Ready? 

Oh, and here’s a few more words…..get those tickets. But first, a delightful, tip-toeing journey through all of the reasons why you absolutely should. 

1.It’s a delightful holiday tale as old as time…..     Considered the most famous stage take of Tchaikovsky‘s historic 1892 ballet, this version ofThe Nutcracker also adapts the story of E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which you can actually show to the kids right here before you go! While the equally legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov‘s production is the most recognized television version (really, how can we ever forget?), it is Mr. George Balanchine’s story that has not only been taking over stages (and selling out the holiday box office) for nearly 65 years, but will always be thought of as a groundbreaking production that made ballet famous in America. And it’s for that very reason that we must show our respect, lace up those slippers and tip-toe right to those glistening tickets. 

2.All of the incredible local talent on fine display….  While it’s easy to go on-and-on about just how incredible the Pennsylvania Ballet will always be (those incredible kids work really, really hard, folks), it’s better to just get to know it all right now by gliding to their official website right here. And once you’ve entered the land of extraordinary wonder, you’ll be able to meet the Ballet, see how their spreading the Love throughout the community, find out about future spectacular events, and of course, you’ll get all access to tickets for ‘The Nutcracker.’ There’s nothing more to say here except attack it like you’re Natalie Portman in ‘Black Swan.’ Go. 

3.It’s a must to keep those Philly holiday traditions alive and glowing….    Macy’s Light Show.…the Christmas Village……going to all 75 tree lightings around the city…..Miracle on 13th Street….the ice skating (and carousel!!) at City Hall, and of course, The Nutcracker. Yes, these are all delightfully frosty Philly holiday traditions that have kept alive and glowing all of these years. And you know why? Because us Philadelphians know how to do it holiday-style. So, if you haven’t checked your tradition list twice yet, now is the time, because, you-know-who is watchin’ and makin’ sure you and the whole phamily do it all this year and have the best holiday yet. 

4.It’s a fantastic way to expose your little loved ones to the arts…..  Oh, the holidays. A time when young ones’ minds are at their very inquisitive and you may hear such questions as….what time is Santa coming? Why is Rudolph’s nose so bright? Where do babies come from? How would you like not to answer that not-so-elusive third question, well, at least until January, hopefully. Take them to The Nutcracker and they’ll be so immersed in everything that’s going on in front of them (the dancing! the prancing! the stage! the lights!) that it will take their young minds away from that question and straight into an obsessed world of every sensation of the arts. And if you’re really lucky, maybe they’ll take one of the many aspects of this show and roll with it to see what happens in the future. Now, that’s the true magic of the holiday season. 

5.Speaking of the Arts one more time…….So, there’s this thing happening….perhaps you’ve heard….schools across the country are cutting funding to arts programs..yes, clutch those pearls because it’s true. And guess what? It must be stopped right this very moment as young ones will lose their escape from, well, it all. While we may not be able to change what’s already been done, we can still show just how important the arts are for everyone, everywhere and the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of this enchanting tale is as fine of a local arts fever as you’re going to get. So, let’s show them we mean business and get out there and support those arts! Besides, GQ just named Philly the City of the Year.…let’s keep the vibes up, shall we? Yes. 

6.Because it’s been a year for us all…    One last sip of holiday tea…let’s talk about 2018. Okay, enough about that…it’s time to get those tickets because if you’re looking for one last escape and capture a truly unforgettable moment as we close out this year, it’s certainly right here. Happy holidays, everyone…and may you dance into the night like nobody’s watching all season long and beyond. 

Cover photo by Pennsylvania Ballet. Media clips courtesy of YouTube, CBS3 and Pennsylvania Ballet.