As Justin Timberlake works on his solo album and Lance Bass prepares to go into space, Joey Fatone isn't about to be the odd man out of 'NSYNC.
For his downtime during the boy band's hiatus, Fatone's broadening his acting résumé to include the Great White Way as the lead in "Rent" (see "'NSYNC's Joey Fatone Struggles To Make 'Rent' ").
"It's very exciting," he said. "I've always wanted to do Broadway. ... About a year ago I went and saw 'Rent,' and it was really cool, and I thought it would be a cool show to do. It's so edgy and so based on real life. It's something I would love to do, and now we have that window."
A modern retelling of Puccini's "La Bohème," the rock opera "Rent" is set in New York's East Village. Where Puccini's Bohemian artists battled star-crossed love, landlords and tuberculosis in 1830s Paris, the young artists in "Rent" find that AIDS is their generation's scourge.
"It's a really touchy situation and subject, but it's something that's real," Fatone said, "and something that should be heard, and that's why it's such a great musical. You really got to focus on what the whole story is about, and the whole idea of what 'Rent' is, how close-knit a family these people are that are struggling to make ends meet and everything else."
Of the artists, lesbians, drag queens, drug addicts and street people that comprise the 15-member cast, Fatone has not only the lead, but one of the most straightforward parts aspiring documentarian Mark Cohen, "Rent"'s parallel character to "La Bohème"'s Marcello, the group's narrator.
"He's somewhat on the outside looking in," Fatone said of his character, "and at the same time he's always seeing everyone's points of view and what's going on in these people's lives. Sometimes he feels like he's left alone. He had a girlfriend, his girlfriend left him for another woman, so he has nobody. He has his friends, but no girlfriend now. He always keeps coming back to his family, which is his friends."
Fatone said he originally auditioned for the part of Roger, a rock songwriter who falls for HIV-infected dancer Mimi, but his voice wasn't high enough. "Then they called me back the next day and said, 'Hey, can you come back next week to audition for Mark?' " Fatone recalled. "And I said, 'Sure.' So I auditioned for Mark and ta-da, there you have it, I'm rehearsing."
For the past two weeks, Fatone has been preparing for his stint, slated to start August 5 and run through December 22. His first few days of rehearsals have found him blocking, practicing songs and doing character work-up. Already, he's finding the schedule challenging.
"It's a lot of work, it really is," Fatone said. "It's obviously different from touring, which is good and bad. I mean, it's good that I'm in one place for a while, which is nice, than constantly having to travel around a lot. But you do eight shows a week, that's what I'm doing. Usually [with 'NSYNC], I'm doing five or six shows a week with two days off. Here you only have one day off, and you do four shows over the weekend for matinees, so it's going to be interesting on my voice."
In joining the cast of "Rent," Fatone adds to the ever-increasing list of music stars making Broadway crossovers, a list that includes Sebastian Bach ("Jekyll & Hyde," see "Sebastian Bach Does Broadway"), Deborah Gibson ("Grease," "Beauty and the Beast," "Les Misérables"), Aaron Carter ("Seussical the Musical"), Joan Jett ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show"), Vanessa Williams ("Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Into the Woods") and Toni Braxton ("Beauty and the Beast," see "Braxton Prepares For Stage Debut While Recording Career In Limbo").
"It's cool, it's fun, it's edgy, it's rock and roll, it's got a lot of real-life stuff," Fatone said. "I think everybody will enjoy it if they haven't seen it, and if you have seen it, come again because I'm in it. I'm in it, can you believe that? Who would have thought?"