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Keala Settle talks to SDGLN about her role in "RENT"

Keala Settle will appear in FOX's "RENT: Live"
Photo credit:
Fox

On Sunday, January 27, 2019, a cast of stars from stage and screen will perform the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical RENT live on Fox.

Keala Settle, who took the world by storm with her performance as Lettie, the Bearded Lady, in The Greatest Showman, will make a special appearance in the broadcast alongside Vanessa Hudgens and Brandon Victor Dixon to perform the show’s central song, “Seasons of Love.”

Settle, who admits seeing the show only once before in the 90s, spoke with the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News about the song, human connection, and the crazy roller coaster that has been her life the last couple of years.

“When I heard they were doing the show, I emailed them and basically asked if they were still doing this song in the show, and if they were, could I sing it,” Settle laughed. “They called me back a couple of days later and told me they’d love to have me on the show, and I’ve gotten to meet this incredible family of young performers which has just been amazing.”

While the actress will only perform the song as a featured player in the live broadcast, she says that there was trepidation when the time came to enter rehearsals to put the show together.

It had been more than two years since she’d performed in a live show outside of publicity for The Greatest Showman—she was last seen on Broadway in the hit musical Waitress--and the anxiety was real.

“It’s one of those things where you get to the stage and suddenly you think, ‘Can I do this? Do I remember how to do this?’” she explained. “And then there’s this incredible feeling when the mic goes on and you start hearing direction and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah! I totally know how to do this.’”

Based on the opera La Boheme, the musical opened on Broadway in 1996 and ran for 12 years with more than 4300 performances, and tells the story of a group of young artists and activists living in New York in the shadow of the poverty and AIDS.

Settle points out that while the musical on the surface carries an excellent message about being tested and knowing your status, its deeper meaning is what spoke to her twenty years ago and continues to speak to her, now.

“The underlying theme is about human connection and staying connected to someone,” she said. “Being in your own skin and being comfortable and wanting to live another day; that connection is what it’s all about.”

The singer and actress says that songs like “This Is Me” and “Seasons of Love” have helped her along in her own journey, learning to love herself despite her perceived flaws, and she hopes she can convey that to the people in her own life as well as her audience.

“No matter who you are; no matter how you’ve lived the last few months,” Settle explained. “If you’re HIV-positive or an addict with tracks up your arms; no matter what you think about yourself while you’re in my arms then go for it, because at least you’ll be in my arms and I’ve got you.”

Settle also spoke candidly about the mini-stroke that she suffered during rehearsals for her Oscar performance last year and her subsequent diagnosis with Moyamoya disease, a rare, progressive cerebrovascular disease that can cause a list of complications including headaches, strokes, seizures, and visual disturbances.

She said the diagnosis has actually given her a sense of peace and an explanation for things that have happened in the past as well as the fear and anxiety she has faced both on stage and off.

“To be able to sit back and watch and ride those waves when they come along means so much to me, now,” she said. “I’m alive and I can be a part of it all, and that means more than anything because I have a lot to say.”

Which brought her back to RENT.

“We’re not just rehashing a show with this performance; everyone is bringing their own story and the things that have shaped their lives to this table,” Settle pointed out.

“To see all these new individuals tell this still relevant story renders you speechless and brings out that feeling of community. The world has connected with this story on the stage and in the movie theater, and on January 27th, they’ll feel it all over again on television.”

RENT will air live on Fox on January 27, 2019 at 8 pm EST. Check your local listings for more details.