21st-Century Answer to It’s a Wonderful Life Boasts Two Real-World “Angels:” Wilson Jermaine Heredia and Jai Rodriguez in Season 3 of Around the Sun
Frank Capra, meet Jonathan Larson. You two have more in common than you might think.
In a surprising feat of meta-casting, Around the Sun, an audio drama created by Brad Forenza and presented by the Broadway Podcast Network, embarks on its third season––an existential odyssey surrounding a family in mourning at Christmas––with not one, but two Angels in its voice acting ensemble.
For Broadway babies of the 1990s, that’s “Angel” as in “Angel Dumott Schunard,” the reincarnation of La Bohème’s starving musician “Schunard” from Larson’s legendary rock musical Rent.
Rent-heads and theatre devotees can expect a double dose of Angel in ATS, Season 3, Episode 3 (“Cold Snap”), which sees Tony winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Broadway’s original Angel, also featured in both the London and film versions) and Jai Rodriguez (a one-time Rent mega fan, turned Toronto and Broadway Angel, and Emmy winning co-host of the original Queer Eye) playing a married couple grappling with different types of loss.
“I’ve been lucky to have seen and been a part of the evolution of queer representation in media for over two decades,” observed Rodriguez. “But playing a nuanced, expectant ‘dad to be’ opposite the iconic Wilson Heredia was really full circle for me. While we did get to do Rent together for a short while, getting to build characters together was a dream come true.”
Heredia concurred: "I really enjoyed the opportunity to affect a character using just voice. And the fact that I got to play opposite my talented friend, Jai Rodriguez, was icing on the cake,” he mused.
And it turns out this dual-Angel dynamic is kind of by design. According to ATS writer and series creator, Brad Forenza, the Angel double cast was simply too exciting to resist:
“One of the biggest joys of producing independent content is getting to create with artists whose work you admire,” Forenza notes. “Rent was such a game-changing, formative theatrical experience for thespians of a certain age (like me!), and Angel always seemed like the heart and soul of that show. So getting to work with two Angels was particularly fulfilling."
Though this holiday-themed ATS season boasts more than its fair share of Angels, ATS: Pinecones doesn’t set out to mirror Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life directly. Instead, true to Around the Sun’s original inception, Pinecones explores human relationships refracted through the lens of past, present, and future, inviting the audience to listen without judgement as characters reveal painful memories alongside bitter regrets, all while confessing aspirations for a brighter tomorrow.
Needless to say, no angel gets their proverbial wings.
Still, Pinecones’ acting Angels are more than equal to the season’s emotional tasks, thanks to their extensive professional experiences before and after Rent, and their longstanding interpersonal camaraderie. Anyone on hand during the recording session could witness an easy shorthand between Heredia and Rodriguez, peppered with occasional interjections and some theatrical in-jokes.
“I was giving you Pinter pauses!” Heredia offered with a smile, after taking a break between lines. Rodriguez also regaled the production team with stories of camping out overnight for Rent tickets as a teen (before the days of electronic ticket lotteries), only to assume the role of Angel himself after Heredia left the show.
“Both Jai and Wilson have resumes that far exceed a singular moment, and their roles in Around the Sun are no exception. Both play characters that are equal parts endearing and equal parts prickly,” Forenza concluded. “But of course, that’s the yin and yang of life. And admittedly, an episode starring two Angels inherently comes with a wealth of heart and soul.”
The celebrated voice acting ensemble of Around the Sun: Pinecones includes: François Clemmons (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), Robert Funaro (The Irishman), Judy Gold (Kill Me Now), Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Rent), Terry Hu (Zombies 3), Cady McClain (All My Children), Estelle Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde), Jai Rodriguez (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), and Brad Forenza (series creator, Around the Sun).
While Heredia and Rodriguez are featured throughout Around the Sun: Pinecones, their main “Cold Snap” episode drops on Wednesday November 1, 2023 via the Broadway Podcast Network and “everywhere you listen to podcasts.”
HOW TO LISTEN?
On their website:
See more about the show as Jai discusses it on WPIX:
Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Broadway's OBC, Tony-winning "Angel" in Rent) and Jai Rodriguez (Toronto's original "Angel," and an Emmy winner for Queer Eye) in the podcast "Around the Sun".