When the widely acclaimed Broadway production of the late Jonathan Larsonís new rock musical, "Rent," was planning its national tour, a number of highly publicized auditions took place in Chicago and several other cities. Huge lines of Mark and Roger wannabees resulted, gaining the show lots of juice attention and resulting in inevitable disappointment for many young performers. So just how did one snag a role in the biggest thing in musical theater since "Les Miserables?"
Arlington Heights native (and University of Illinois graduate) Daniel J. Robbins got very lucky: the New York-based young actor found his way into the megahit show by auditioning for something entirely different- an unrelated production at the New York Theatre Workshop. As is always essential in show business, fortune was on Robbinsí side. The same casting directors were working for both productions.
"I was doing both a childrenís show and a touring freak show when I auditioned at the Theatre Workshop," said Robbins, who first saw "Rent" on television (a segment appeared on the annual broadcast of the Tony Awards). "The casting directors took a look at me and decided I should audition instead for ĎRent.í So I didnít have to stand in any line."
Although he can be spotted in the busy "Rent" ensemble, Robbins sometimes has the chance to understudy both Roger and Mark, the pair of self- reflexive guys living La Vie Boheme in Larsonís idealized version of Greenwich Village. Given that these struggling characters seem so different (Mark is a high-energy videographer; Roger is a pensive, HIV-positive guitar player), many young fans of the show would probably be surprised that the same actor could possibly be serving as understudy for each of them.
"Mark and Roger are really different sides of the same coin," Robbins says. "Mark is me, and itís always fun to play yourself. Roger is more of an acting challenge- heís withdrawn and has a lot of trouble expressing himself."
Being an understudy does not necessarily mean that you will ever find your way into the leads. So although Robbins has hopes of doing "Rent" on Broadway one day, he also has his eyes on other projects.
" ĎRentí is an artistic adventure but itís not my artistic adventure," he says. "Iím a writer and singer-songwriter. I spend my days sitting at a computer typing up narratives and short stories. I work with other musicians and we play together and sing each otherís songs.
"Like the show says," muses the modest and likable Robbins (who believes in making his own big breaks), "the future is now."