a texan in new york

Texas stage star shines bright in Rent's 20th anniversary summer tour

Texas stage star shines bright in Rent's 20th anniversary summer tour

Rent 20th anniversary tour 2019
Rent takes a musical stand at the Hobby Center, August 6-11. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Rent 20th anniversary tour 2019: Cody Jenkins
Texan Cody Jenkins plays Mark Cohen in the Rent 20th Anniversary Tour.  Rent 20th Anniversary Tour courtesy photo
Rent 20th anniversary tour 2019
The cast of the Rent 20th Anniversary Tour.  Photo by Carol Rosegg
Rent 20th anniversary tour 2019
Rent 20th anniversary tour 2019: Cody Jenkins
Rent 20th anniversary tour 2019

The next time you’re in the audience of a touring Broadway show, take a look across an aisle or in the next row for that musical theater-loving kid enthralled and singing silently along. Ten or 15 years from now, that child just might be the star lighting up the stage in that same musical.

Such is the case of Texas-born-and raised Cody Jenkins, who plays Mark Cohen in the Rent 20th anniversary tour as it turns summer into a season of love at the Hobby Center.

Texas strong
Jenkins is proof a Texas theater kid can make it to New York and back on tour with a show that helped him first to dream of Broadway. When CultureMap catches up with Jenkins as he prepares to head back to his Lone Star home state with the Rent production, he is quick to recount the support he had along the way. He gives props and thanks to the Texas acting and musical educational organizations that helped foster his love of the arts and gave him the skills to tackle a Tony Award-winning Broadway show. Growing up in Fort Worth, he especially cites getting involved with Kids Who Care at a young age.

“They were a really big reason why I continued in theater and continued to grow as an actor,” he says of the performing arts organization.

Jenkins saw Rent for the first time in Dallas almost 10 years ago, when original cast members Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp toured. Jenkins had been involved with youth productions of West Side Story and immediately made a connection with the camaraderie and friends are family message of both shows.

“Once I saw it, I thought: I have to do this show,” he says. 

Jenkins later jumped into the show his senior year at Texas State University, where he went for its “fantastic” acting program.

“I would definitely tell all kids who want to pursue acting to give Texas State a look, because it’s a very good school. I credit my love for Shakespeare and acting to the school. It opened my eyes to how great acting is,” says Jenkins.

A man of all seasons
Now as part of this unprecedented 20th anniversary tour, Jenkins finds himself in the “strange happenstance” of having inhabited three roles in the show. He began with the tour playing Gordon while also understudying one of the main characters, Roger, roommate and best friend to Mark. Now with the latest cast turnover, he plays the budding filmmaker and lynchpin character Mark full time.

Jenkins best describes who Mark is when he describes his poignant solo, “Halloween.”

“A lot of Mark is on the outside. He’s the camera man, always observing. He’s very much connected to the other characters, but “Halloween” is where we get to see him dealing with all the emotions that he’s been pushing away,” he explains, adding, “He’s felt like he’s so connected, involved and holding everyone together, but in reality he’s been on the outside looking in.”

With Rent still going strong 20 years from its mid-’90s debut and likely will still beguile 20 years from now, I asked Jenkins why audiences continue to sell out the show with each revival and new tour.

“I think it’s about the honesty in the show and about how real these people are,” he ponders. “I think there’s a moment in the show for everyone. People love to coming back and hear the story and music and see the spectacle. The music is so beautiful and the orchestration so stunning.”

While many fans might think of “Seasons of Love,” as the highlight of the show, Jenkins feels the one song that embodies Rent's honesty, authenticity, and cycles of love is actually “Without You,” as a “beautiful picture of how life continues to go on when people come and go from out lives.”

But as the tour heads to Houston, Jenkins seems still in wonder at how far he’s come, yet full circle.

“I’ve always had very strong ties to Rent. It’s a dream show to do, and I’ve done it; and this is a dream role to do, and soon I’ll be able to say I’ve performed both my dream roles in the show. It’s so wild to me to be in that place now.”

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Rent runs August 6-11 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St. For tickets and showtimes, visit the show’s site.

A limited number of seats in the first two rows of the orchestra section will be available for $25 for in-person purchases at the Hobby Center Box Office on the day of each performance only, two hours prior to the show.