Wednesday, March 18, 1998

Garel happy to be playing the Rent
By JOHN COULBOURN -- Toronto Sun

A year ago, Saskia Garel thought rent was something you paid at the beginning of every month.

Now she's starring in it.

Last week, the 28-year-old Garel, an ensemble member in the Toronto production of Rent since its December opening, stepped into the Rent spotlight big time.

As of March 11, she replaced Krysten Cummings, for whom she'd served as understudy, in the role of Mimi, the tragic, drug-addicted, HIV positive dancer at the heart of the show. Cummings, for her part, is headed to London, where she'll reprise the role in the British premiere of the show.

As for Garel, she's still a little shell-shocked.

"I've never done musical theatre before," she confesses. "I think the thing that scares me the most is eight shows a week."

She's handling the transition well, for someone who had to be coaxed into even auditioning for the show.

As Garel recalls it, she responded to her agent's suggestion that she audition for the show in somewhat classic fashion, with the query: "What's Rent?"

Having been brought up to speed on the show that turned the heat on Broadway all the way up to 90, she was only slightly more enthused.

"Okay," she responded. "It's a musical, but it's really not my thing."

It certainly wasn't, as anyone who remembers the heyday of a Canadian girl group called Love & Sas can attest.

Juno winners in 1992 and '93, for best R&B recording, Love & Sas toured Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain and, at one time, had five music videos running on MuchMusic.

Then: "We went different directions," the former Sas says of her partnership with Lovena Fox. "I wanted to do R&B and she actually pursued musical theatre after that."

Even though her tastes now run more to jazz than straight R&B, Garel still hasn't lost interest in a recording career. She was working on putting together a solo album before she got caught in the Rent maelstrom and she'll go back to work on it when Rent is no longer due.

That may be a while, what with Ottawa and Vancouver gigs already announced and rumors of the show moving across the prairie provinces and possibly all the way to Montreal.

Being on the road holds no horrors for Garel. In fact, she remembers it fondly and well.

"I haven't done it for awhile," she says, smiling. "But I really enjoy touring. It's the lazy part of me. I love having my bed made."

Considering the workload she's carrying, the road might be something she can look forward to as she makes her way toward Toronto's July 26 closing.

Garel's not complaining, but Mimi can be a tough slog. The acting is tough -- but that's only the tip of the iceberg.

"It's the moving and the dancing and the bar (Mimi's Out Tonight is performed on an iron banister at the back of the stage), that's what makes it hard," she explains.

There are payoffs too, she adds, with no arm-twisting at all.

"Can I say something girly?" she asks with a lazy smile. "I just love the clothes. They're so funky."

Hip, colorful and tight as a second skin, they are, she opines, the kind of clothes everyone wanted to wear in high school.

"Now you get to wear them and really work it."

It's unlikely you will hear the clothes -- or the audience -- complaining.