UH Hilo grad lands iconic Broadway musical role

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Tavares in costume as AngelTavares as Angel, a transgender woman in Rent.

Dreams of show biz and Broadway are in motion for a University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo alumnus from Kona. Joshua Tavares, 21, is currently touring with the Tony award-winning musical, Rent, after scoring a major role. The critically-acclaimed production just wrapped up its performances at the Neal Blaisdell Center last Sunday.

The beloved show centered around characters in New York struggling with sexuality and life under the shadow of AIDS is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Tavares plays Angel, a transgender woman.

“It’s an absolute thrill. It’s a very demanding role physically, vocally, emotionally so it requires you to have to really tap into and experience the beauty and generosity and sass of such an iconic character,” Tavares said.

Acting roots nurtured at UH Hilo

Joshua TavaresJoshua Tavares

The Kamehameha Schools graduate earned a bachelor’s degree in performing arts at UH Hilo in 2012. Tavares traces his acting roots to the Hawaiʻi Island campus and credits renowned UH Hilo drama professor Jackie Pualani Johnson for shaping him into an onstage storyteller. Johnson retired from the university in 2017 after a career spanning nearly 40 years.

Returning to Hawaiʻi to perform has been an emotional experience for Tavares who said the energy from local audiences is like no other. His ʻohana and friends were among hundreds of Broadway fans that flocked to the Blaisdell to see the rock musical.

“On our last show, the audience members who came to the stage door sang, ‘Hawaiʻi Aloha’ for the cast, and they were so moved by the aloha spirit. I’ll remember that moment forever. So special,“ Tavares said.

During Rent’s stint in Honolulu, the Hawaiʻi Island native exposed cast members to local food and got them to slurp up ramen and grind SPAM musubis and poi.

Hoʻi, return to pass down knowledge

Tavares said his ultimate goal is to eventually return, or hoʻi, to Hawaiʻi. “I’d love to get a few Broadway credits, perhaps a couple more tours and some TV/film credits as well and then bring all that experience back to the next generation of Hawaiʻi-based performers,” said Tavares.

After the holidays, the production travels to Florida and will zip through a number of U.S. cities before heading to Mexico and Japan.

Tavares and familyDuring the show’s Honolulu stint, Tavares spent the holidays with ʻohana.