A good number of people watching Fox’s Rent Live Sunday will be so familiar with the music and lyrics that they’d fit right in ordering at the Life Café or mooing in the crowd at Maureen’s protest.
“But a lot won’t,” said Brandon Victor Dixon, the Power alum who plays Tom Collins in the musical telecast. And those viewers are the ones he’s planning to keep in mind as Collins mourns Angel in the show’s reprise of “I’ll Cover You.”
For those unfamiliar with Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking 1996 musical, it’s a loose update of Puccini’s La Boheme, only set in New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1990s. Collins, a philosophy professor with AIDS, falls in love with Angel, a drag queen with AIDS, and we watch their love bloom via songs like Act I’s upbeat “I’ll Cover You.” The tune is brought back later, albeit with a far more grave tone, after Angel succumbs to the disease in Act II.
“I’ve had to focus deeply on the words and why I’m saying it,” Dixon told TVLine in an interview earlier in January. “It’s really when he returns to that phrase ‘I have longed to discover something as true as this is.’ There’s a certain choice of words there. The longing. The discovery. Not just ‘find.’ Not just ‘have.’ Discover.”
He continued that finding and losing “something that can fill this hole, that can spark this spark” — and then realizing that the pursuit was worth it, “is the journey of that song. It’s personally going through acknowledging the love you have, thanking your love for the love given and the lessons given, and then looking at the people who are with you still and reminding them of the lesson and telling them that it is worth the cost.”
Dixon added that, even though there have been great medical and technological advances in the battle against HIV/AIDS since Rent‘s debut, it’s still “a limited swath of the population” that has access to those gains.
“It’s still a very big issue,” he said. “And because we don’t talk about it as prominently or with as much regularity as we did when we knew less about it, and when the government was ignoring it in full, we haven’t been able to combat the prejudice surrounding AIDS and HIV. We haven’t been able to combat the stigma surrounding people living with it, and also its remaining epidemic nature in particular communities, particularly communities of color.”