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Fredi Walker-Browne celebrates the 20th anniversary of ‘Rent’

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Fredi Walker-Browne celebrates the 20th anniversary of ‘Rent’
“Rent” opening night in 1996. (Photo: Photo courtesy Fredi Walker-Browne)

Twenty-years ago, fate guided actress Fredi Walker-Browne in the direction of becoming part of musical history when she originated the role of JoAnne Jefferson in Jonathan Larson’s 1996 Tony Award-winning musical “Rent.”

At the time she was booked for two shows that were on the exact same night.

“They were the exact same time commitment. They both would have gotten me enough weeks for my health insurance to kick in through my union. One was on the Upper East Side and one was in the Village, and I lived in Brooklyn and I took the one in the Village,” recalls Walker-Browne by phone recently. “It was completely serendipitous. My landlord knew Jonathan Larson. I was being led to it the whole way.”

Walker-Browne is eternally grateful for the role which has had a huge and positive impact on her life both personally and professionally.

“At the end of the day I get to do what I love because of the success of “Rent.” I have been able to continue acting, directing, writing, all the things that I love to do,” says the actress, who earned an Obie Award for her performance in the musical.

In that same spirit, Walker-Browne presents a free seminar on Saturday called “Storytelling for Actors” at the Back Bay Events Center from 12-4 p.m., to coincide with Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s 20th anniversary production of the iconic musical. The seminar will include “breaking down the art of storytelling, working on the craft of storytelling and how it enhances an actor’s work, but also how it relates to pretty much everything we do because we’re storytellers by nature. That’s how we communicate,” describes Walker-Browne.

Author: Fiddlehead Theatre CompanyThe London marquee for “Rent.”

As part of the 20th anniversary, she participated in a panel last month with several of the other original Broadway cast members for the first-time event, BroadwayCon, which was held in New York City. Walker-Brown said she wishes she and her former cast members would reunite more often.

“People ask me does it bring back memories,” she said. “That was one question they had asked me during the thing [BroadwayCon]. It doesn’t exactly bring back memories so much it feels like a continuum. It’s as if we’re never apart and we come back together. It’s just this continuum of what was.”

Based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème,” the musical tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling in New York City’s East Village under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. It addressed the social issues of the day and is just as relevant now as it was when first premiered in 1996 according to Walker-Browne.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the issues it addresses are still relevant and some of them are ever present in human nature — hatred and exclusionism and elitism, and the need to destroy others, lessening others.”

She goes on to add that “the need to make ourselves feel better by somehow making others feel less than us, and so we gather together in our samenesses and we use that to pressure others who are different. That is something that is constant to the human condition, and so unfortunately for those reasons Rent will always be relevant. It speaks to those truths, seeking a community that accepts you as you are.”