Jordan Fisher was a 9-year-old in Trussville, outside of Birmingham, when he first was exposed to “Rent,” albeit illegally.
“A buddy of mine gave me a bootleg of the show, and I fell in love with it,” says Fisher, who got an early start doing theater at Red Mountain Theatre Company in Birmingham. “I binged it, watched it six or seven times over the course of a weekend.”
Now, 15 years later, after starting a recording career, starring in TV series such as “Liv and Maddie” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” gaining fans in Disney’s “Teen Beach” TV movies, starring in “Grease: Live” on TV and “Hamilton” on Broadway, not to mention winning the 25th season of “Dancing With the Stars,” Fisher is about to tackle what he calls a dream role. He stars as Mark in “Rent,” airing live on Sunday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. central time on Fox.
In “Rent,” Mark Cohen is the aspiring filmmaker observing life unfolding around him in New York’s East Village. Composer Jonathan Larson loosely based his musical on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” following a group of young people as they deal with their sexuality, HIV and AIDS and more.
“Mark can kind of see everything that’s happening as he’s narrating this story and going through this tumultuous process with love and loss and ultimately recognizing that community and compassion is the thing that keeps Earth on its axis,” Fisher says. “I find that he’s a little more tortured than what I’ve seen, being kind of the outsider looking in at all of this, the only one of the friend group that was born into privilege and chose the life of a starving artist. He doesn’t deal with AIDS or sexuality or anything along those lines, yet he’s living within the nucleus of all of this.”
Others in the “Rent” cast include Brandon Victor Dixon, Vanessa Hudgens, Tinashe and Mario.
When “Rent” premiered off-Broadway in 1996, it was a sensation, with its gritty rock musical score by Larson. Larson died the night before the musical premiered off-Broadway, so he didn’t see it go on to win four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
“I hate that he never really got to see it come to fruition and see the impact it made across multiple generations,” Fisher says. “’Rent’ was the show that really was the genesis of me wanting to pursue this professionally.”
Fisher made the move to Los Angeles a few years ago and has steadily made a name for himself as a performer. He says the live version of “Rent” combines his many loves.
“It’s a full-course meal for a creator or entertainer to be able to build a show and cultivate it as if you would a Broadway show, block it like live television and have a shoot schedule like film,” Fisher says. “It blends all of these worlds together. You couple that with the fact that ‘Rent’ is such a beautiful, heartfelt real human story that we need right now. It’s so special.”
Fisher is also breaking ground in “Rent.”
“I thought it would be very interesting to be the first person of color to play this role, which is kind of the quintessential white, good, upstanding Jewish boy from upstate New York, born into privilege and whatnot,” says Fisher, whose race is mixed. “There are handfuls of people that I am representing in all of this.”
It’s a daunting task to star in a live musical – Fisher even joked about it earlier this week on “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” feigning ignorance that the show was airing live. Seriously, though, he says it’s a mixture of fear and excitement.
“I think it’s a healthy mixture of both,” he says. “You just do the work; that’s what you do. You build it, you cultivate it, create it, get in the trenches, break sweat, and you trust your gut that it’s right for what we need at the moment. Then all of a sudden, it’s show day and the focus is to just do the work. You live in it, have so much fun in it, soak it in, especially with something like this, where you are opening and closing a show all at the same time.”
After “Rent” closes, Fisher has plans, but he can’t divulge them, yet.
“I know what’s going on for the next two-and-a-half years of my life, and I’m very excited to talk to you about that once I’m allowed to,” he says.
Fisher returns to Alabama from time to time, mostly to visit his girlfriend, Ellie Woods, who is from Birmingham and finishing up her degree in clinical dietetics at the University of Alabama. She and Fisher met at RMTC.
“We grew up together, but we’ve been officially dating for two years,” he says. “We also tend to go down to Florida. We have a little vacation spot near the panhandle.”
But first, there’s “Rent,” and Fisher is ready.
“I’m thrilled,” he says. “I’ve performed on stages since I was a child. Being able to do something along these lines is such a fulfilling experience. It’s everything I love about creating art.”