From Happy Valley to Broadway Tour: PSU Alum Stars in RENT

(L to R) Danny Harris Kornfeld, Christian Thompson, Kaleb Wells RENT 20th Anniversary Tour, Credit Carol Rosegg, 2016

Penn State Alumni constantly go on to accomplish amazing feats after completing their time on campus, and the musical theater students are no exception. On April 6, 2017, Christian Thompson, PSU ’15, will return to Happy Valley when Penn State’s Center for the Performing Arts presents the nationally touring Broadway production of Rent. Valley’s Business Director, Anna James, spoke to Thompson about his experience on the road.

ANNA JAMES: What’s it like to be on the national tour of such an iconic Broadway show and what are you most looking forward to?

CHRISTIAN THOMPSON: It’s amazing watching the reaction from the audience every night and seeing the people who know the words and seeing how much they love the show. I’m most looking forward to probably coming back to Penn State. It’s been a couple years now and being able to see my professors and know that we did it, in a way it’s a group success.

AJ: You were only a toddler when Rent first appeared on stage. Do you feel any heightened pressure or responsibility to deliver on this twentieth anniversary tour?

CT: I think whenever you care for a show as much as I do—it’s been with me, like you said, for most of my life—whenever you care for a show that deeply, there’s always that added pressure that you want to make sure you’re doing a good job. But I think with the cast we have it’s almost impossible not to. We just go out on stage and you trust the work that you’ve done and you trust the people around you, so it’s hard not to deliver such great material.

AJ: With Rent’s debut being 20 years ago in 1996, the themes present in the show were very heavy topics back then and still are, but do you notice any difference in how the material is delivered now with our society versus how it was 20 years ago?

CT: I think the beautiful thing about Rent is it centers around a lot of universal themes of love, of inclusion, and community and finding your community. I think those type of things are so timeless that it really doesn’t lose much steam.

AJ: You play the role of Benny but you’re also understudying the role of Roger. How do you manage juggling two very different characters and the responsibility of knowing both roles?

CT: I think both Benny and Roger live in me in a very special and unique way. I had the great fortune of having the training from Penn State to be prepared to do something like this and to have two major roles in my head at one time and not be overwhelmed.

AJ: What advice do you have for anyone who is trying to do what you do?

CT: Just keep going with everything you have. I think the one thing that, and this was advice that was given to me by a playwright named Dominque Morisseau, but she said, “If you serve the art, the art will serve you.” And I think that is the truest statement I have ever heard.

The Center for the Performing Arts will host a “Broadway Bash” ticket sale for University Park students on Wednesday, January 11th from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Eisenhower Auditorium. By showing their Penn State IDs, students can get an additional 15% off the already discounted student-prices for any of the touring Broadway shows coming in the spring semester.

42nd StreetOncePippinRent and Annie will all make their way to Happy Valley this spring!

To view a full performance schedule and purchase tickets, visit 

This post is sponsored by Penn State’s Center for the Performing Arts.