Brandon Victor Dixon, currently on stage as Tom Collins in Off-Broadway’s RENT, was only 15 years old when the groundbreaking musical opened in 1996. But Dixon had a feeling that one day he would join the ensemble of this iconoclastic musical. He did not lack for persistence. “I auditioned for the show six times,” he said in a recent interview. “The music is what got me -- the lyrics and the message that is so relevant.”
“The song ‘No Day but Today’ has always held a big message for me, and I have always loved the music,” he continued. Performing in RENT was even on Dixon’s “bucket list” he said. “I especially loved the original cast recording and listened to it a ton of times, and I saw it at least five times.”
No stranger to live performance, Dixon, 30, has won plaudits for performances in THE COLOR PURPLE, THE LION KING and THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, in addition to appearances on the small screen. The former Washington D.C. resident moved to New York in the fall of 1999 to attend Columbia University. While a student he performed in a traditional varsity show that drew the likes of Tony Kushner and other Broadway icons. It was while a student there that Dixon learned the inner workings of the city. “I learned the city at my own pace because I was a student at the time,” Dixon recalled.
Since joining the cast in December, Dixon has marveled at the special enthusiasm of a typical RENT audience. “I’ve never been in a show before where audience members sing along,” he said with a laugh. “RENT audiences tend to be pretty vocal. They scream and cheer a lot.”
Dixon has a special routine before hitting the stage. “I practice a personal meditation,” he said, “and have a gala apple before each show.” He draws inspiration from artists that include Michael Jackson and Michael J. Fox, whom he considers a mega talent. “There are a lot of people I admire in general, including Jeffrey Wright. My No. 1 artistic inspiration in theater is Brian Stokes Mitchell.”
The young RENT theatergoers of 2012 get the same message as the audiences of the 1990s, Dixon said. “The show’s message is the same as the original, and the beauty of that is that the message resonates no matter who they put in the show.”
Dixon doesn’t see the appetite for the play diminishing anytime soon. He said had friends who hadn’t seen the show since its early days "and they were just as moved by this production as they were in the original. I think RENT will run forever.”
Dixon, who will be in the musical until April 1, has this to offer young performers: “If you want to do it, do it. If you get discouraged, keep going and make sure you study and learn everything you can, not just about the performing arts.”
RENT is playing at the New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street.