UH Hilo alumnus Joshua Tavares lands iconic Broadway musical role in Rent

Joshua Tavares traces his acting roots to UH Hilo and credits renowned drama professor Jackie Pualani Johnson for shaping him into an onstage storyteller.

Portrait of Joshua Tavares
Joshua Tavares

Dreams of show biz and Broadway are in motion for a University of Hawai‘i at Hilo alumnus from Kona. Joshua Tavares, 29, is currently touring with the Tony award-winning musical, Rent, after scoring a major role. The critically-acclaimed production just wrapped up its performances at the Neal Blaisdell Center last Sunday.

The beloved show centered around characters in New York struggling with sexuality and life under the shadow of AIDS is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Tavares plays Angel, a transgender woman.

“It’s an absolute thrill,” says Tavares. “It’s a very demanding role physically, vocally, emotionally so it requires you to have to really tap into and experience the beauty and generosity and sass of such an iconic character.”

Joshua Tavres in costume as Angel, red coat with white fur collar.
Joshua Tavares as Angel in the award-winning musical Rent, Washington DC. Photo from @babatavares on Instagram.

Acting roots nurtured at UH Hilo

The Kamehameha Schools graduate earned a bachelor of arts in performing arts at UH Hilo in 2012. Tavares traces his acting roots to the Hawai‘i Island campus and credits renowned UH Hilo drama professor Jackie Pualani Johnson for shaping him into an onstage storyteller. Johnson retired from the university in 2017 after a career spanning nearly 40 years.

Returning to Hawai‘i to perform has been an emotional experience for Tavares who says the energy from local audiences is like no other. His ‘ohana and friends were among hundreds of Broadway fans that flocked to the Blaisdell to see the rock musical.

“On our last show, the audience members who came to the stage door sang, ‘Hawai‘i Aloha’ for the cast, and they were so moved by the aloha spirit. I’ll remember that moment forever. So special,“ Tavares says.

During Rent’s stint in Honolulu, the Hawai‘i Island native exposed cast members to local food and got them to slurp up ramen and grind SPAM musubis and poi.

Tavares stands in front of theater doors.
Joshua Tavares at the Neil. S. Blaisdell Concert Hall in Honolulu. “To all those who have helped shape the man and storyteller I am today, mahalo,” he writes on his Instagram @babatavares.

Hoʻi, return to pass down knowledge

Tavares says his ultimate goal is to eventually return, or ho‘i, to Hawaiʻi. “I’d love to get a few Broadway credits, perhaps a couple more tours and some TV/film credits as well and then bring all that experience back to the next generation of Hawai‘i-based performers.”

Tavares stands under theater marquee.
Joshua Tavares at the historic Fox Theater, Detroit. “Beyond blessed to perform at the historic @thefoxtheatredetroit where LEGENDS such as Elvis, Frank, Aretha, Smokey, Stevie and Gladys (to name a few) have graced the same stage. Mahalo!!!” he writes on his Instagram @babatavares.

After the holidays, the production travels to Florida and will zip through a number of U.S. cities before heading to Mexico and Japan.


-Story by Moanike‘ala Nabarro at UH System News.