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August 30, 2014, 6:20 am

‘Rent’ actress makes iconic role her own

According to actress Brit West, one of the challenges to playing Mimi in Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize winning musical “Rent,” is finding her core and displaying her emotions in a way that makes her come alive.

“Even though I’ve seen the film version of ‘Rent,’ I build my own character,” says West, who will take the stage at Bristol Riverside Theatre May 8 to June 3. “I might have been influenced by the original recording but I have to make Mimi my very own. And that’s what’s so great about playing these iconic roles. They are so huge that you have the opportunity to put your own spin on the character.”

West explains that she played in “Rent” before, but never as Mimi. “She is the romantic lead and actually creates a roller coaster ride of a role that’s much more intense and much more detailed that the other role I portrayed.”

“Rent” is based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme. “It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York’s Lower East Side under the shadows of HIV/AIDS.

The musical was first seen in a limited three-week workshop production in 1994. Two years later it had its official opening. Unfortunately, the show’s creator died suddenly the night before the off-Broadway premiere. But the show went on to win many awards, including a Tony award for Best Musical.

“And that’s no surprise,” says West. “There’s a lot of grit to ‘Rent,’ and I think that’s one of the things that keeps audiences coming back. It’s so true to life and a story not often well represented in the mainstream theater. It’s not pretty, and [it’s] sort of in your face, and may come as close to experimental theater than many people have ever seen before.”

And who can forget the music, she asks, with such songs as “Seasons of Love,” “One Song Glory,” “Light My Candle” and others.

West grew up in Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, and admits she always loved performing, although in college she majored in economics.

“As a child in eighth grade, I got to play the role of Sylvia in the play called ‘Sylvia,’” West remembers. “I think that was the defining moment in my life that firmed up my ambition to want to be a performer. And I continued acting in almost every show in school from then on.”

But after graduating from college with a B.A. degree, the desire to act could no longer be denied. And so she followed her original dream.

Among her many credits, West went on to appear in the national touring productions of “Legally Blonde: The Musical” and “Storytime Live!” She also appeared in many regional productions.

She describes herself as a “singer/actress who can move well. I’ve sung in choir all through high school and so I jumped into becoming known as a singer because there’s such a huge market for that in New York. And since I’m building my own career from scratch, I know I have to mold myself to the largest market possible.”

Today, with her equity card in hand and credits that include a sizeable résumé, West says she’s looking forward to “making my Broadway debut by the holidays. That’s really my big goal right now,’ she concludes.

For times and ticket information, call (215) 785-0100.