Temple student performs in ‘Rent’ 20th-anniversary tour

Shafiq Hicks, a junior vocal performance major, plays “Tom Collins” in the award-winning musical.

Voice performance and music education major Shafiq Hicks sings “Mean Ol’ Lion” as the Cowardly Lion in Theatre in the X’s production of “The Wiz” at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia during the summer of 2018. | COURTESY / NEW CASTRO PHOTO

For Shafiq Hicks, performing arts has been a part of his life since he was 2 years old. 

Hicks, a junior vocal performance major, has been a background singer for performances with musical legends like Aretha Franklin, Estelle and Andrea Bocelli. 

Now, he’s traveling all over the country in Broadway’s 20th-anniversary tour of “Rent,” starring as the character “Tom Collins,” a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student living with AIDS who returns home to New York City to teach at New York University. 

The award-winning musical, set during the AIDS epidemic in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, touches on themes about love, friendship and sexuality. The tour began in 2016 and is heading into its fourth year, with Hicks as a new addition to the cast this year.

“I’m having a blast,” Hicks said. “This is a dream come true because this is what I want to do. It does get tiring at times with all the jetlag and going through customs but honestly, it’s worth it to be able to perform every night for different audiences across America.”

The musical opened on Broadway in 1996 and has since attracted fanfare and critical acclaim for being one of the premier stage plays of the past 50 years. It won a Pulitzer Prize as well as four Tony Awards.

Hicks didn’t initially plan on performing in Rent. He originally auditioned for Broadway’s Kinky Boots, an award-winning musical that debuted in 2012, as a way to get his foot in the door for touring.

“They called me back and actually asked me to do this show which was really exciting,” Hicks said. 

In the show, Hicks’ character meets his love interest, Angel, a street drummer who also has AIDS. 

“I have an emotional connection with him due to his open-mindedness,” he said. “I strive to be as open to life as Collins is and this has made my life all the better.”

In production, Hicks, who is taking a semester off to focus on touring, has been able to work with Michael Grief, the production’s original Broadway director from when it debuted.

“It’s something I can see really helping me improve overall as a performer,” Hicks said. “It’s important for me to get to know people as well as knowing myself as a performer.” 

Paul Rardin, chair of the vocal arts department, has worked with Hicks as an underclassman through his work with the Temple University Concert Choir. 

“[Hicks] is a hardworking and supremely gifted musician. He’s an expert in sight-reading with an impressive musical background,” Rardin said.

His hard work has also earned the acclaim of Rollo Dilworth, head of Temple’s music education and music therapy program.

“[Hicks] is an extremely talented musician whose talent precedes him,” Dilworth said. “He’s the kind of individual who represents what the Boyer school is all about.”

Hicks made an appearance as a guest solo artist at Dilworth’s local church, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.

“He was absolutely delightful. He really mesmerized the audience and we were thrilled to have him,” Dilworth said.

Hicks is also a vocal coach in Philadelphia and uses his education to train his students to become better singers.

“My learning at Temple assists me in learning how the voice works so I can help my students find their own voice,” he said.

Going forward, Hicks wants to keep all his options open regarding his future as a performer, he said.

He’s hopeful for the possibility to do television and film in the future, Hicks said, but will always have a passion for theatre.

“Stage is my first love, so I’d hopefully love to keep doing it, preferably Broadway,” he said.

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