Philadelphia actor Shafiq Hicks talks about RENT and his role as Tom Collins

-Marialena Rago

Pictured: Joshua Tavares (Angel) and Shafiq Hicks (Tom Collins), photo by Amy Boyle


Most people know the story of RENT, the Tony award winning rock musical that is returning to Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater due to popular demand. If you missed your chance at seeing the show here last spring, you can catch it again for one weekend only- October 18th to 20th.

Unfamiliar with RENT? This 2016 Best Musical winner is about a group of bohemians living in New York City at the end of the 1980s. The group experiences love, heartbreak and loss together during a turbulent time in America as we were slowly learning about AIDS and the HIV virus. Shafiq Hicks, a native Philadelphian, Philadelphia High School for the Performing Arts (CAPA) grad and current Temple student (when he’s not on tour) plays the role of Tom Collins, one of the main characters.

“Tom Collins is really open to life and open to love,” Hicks says. “He meets Angel and it allows him to go on this journey of love and appreciation of life.”

Tom Collins spews theories about life in America and the national AIDs epidemic. He is also the glue of this group of friends.“I absolutely love all my family and friends, and every time I’m near them I’m like, ‘let’s hangout here, let’s all get together.’ So, I love [Tom’s] openness, his generosity of time and life. I love his love.”

Hicks, who is from Northwest Philly, is excited to come home. He grew up going to concerts and vocal shows in town, so it means a lot to be performing in the city that raised and trained him. “It’s so good to come back and be back to the place that made me the vocalist and artist I am today. I feel like I’m giving back to what they gave me.”

He wants to visit the places he used to hang out at as a kid, but more importantly he wants a good cheese steak. “I haven’t had a good cheese steak [laughs]. That’s the first thing I’m going for.” He says his favorite is a spot by his “neck of the woods”- Max’s.

Hicks also wants to go to back to the schools that made him into the artist that he is today.  If he could give one piece of advice to young performers it would simple- be yourself. “What I try to do with my students [as a vocal coach] is bring out the real voice in them. I feel like a lot of people, especially a lot of young singers, try to emulate their favorite singers to the T. My goal isn’t to make you a replica, it’s to make you real. If you go into auditions as who you are and as yourself, you’ll ultimately succeed because that can be exactly what they are looking for. In musical theater and auditions in general, they are looking for individuality. They are really looking for outside of the box.”

As for playing Tom Collins, Shafiq says it is a dream role. “To be able to take this role on tour; tour America and other countries, has been, honestly, more than a blessing. So, it is more than I could have asked for, especially at this time in my life.”

RENT debuted in 1996. It has many die-hard fans who have seen the show over and over again. Why is this show still so popular nearly 25 years after the Broadway debut? “I think it is such a real, raw story. That’s why it still resonates,” says Hicks. “It hits home for so many people especially in the ’90s when AIDS was a [big] thing, people went through that, people saw their relatives, family and friends pass away and deal with the diseases. People also go through the real things of relationships, loss, cheating and all those things. It’s a big deal because it’s a real story.”

Hicks, who was also once part of the Kimmel Center’s ShowStoppers program and attended their Jazz Camp, says he is fully indebted to all the musical connections and all the artistic connections has has made in Philly. “I love them so much. I can’t wait to share this amazing story with them.”

For information on the RENT ticket lottery or to purchase seats in advance, visit the Kimmel Center’s website.

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