The Greatest Showman's Keala Settle Slays 'Seasons of Love' in Rent Live Amid Stroke Recovery
Nearly a year after her headline-making health crisis, a triumphant Keala Settle took the stage on Sunday night in Fox’s live production of Rent to sing the inspiring solo in the musical’s signature song, “Season of Love.”
The Tony-nominated actress, 43, had fans cheering online for her performance, Settle’s first since singing The Greatest Showman’s inspiring anthem “This Is Me” at the 2018 Academy Awards.
Days before that performance, while rehearsing for it last February, Settle lost half of her body’s motor functions after she suffered a mini-stroke — one that would lead doctors to diagnose her with a rare cerebrovascular disorder known as Moyamoya disease.
To correct the problem, Settle underwent a 10-hour double-bypass brain surgery, which provided alternative blood flow to the right side of her brain for the first time ever.
That was only the beginning. Since the operation last April, Settle has immersed herself in months of cognitive and physical therapy to relearn how to walk, talk, write, and yes, sing. She will be on medication for the rest of her life.
As terrifying as it was, Settle told PEOPLE exclusively in November that the ordeal has had a positive experience on her life
“It’s shifted me in ways I’m still understanding,” she marveled. “The way that I look at the world is so completely different. I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been; I can find the joy in things I never could. This truly gave me another lease on life.”
“The universe had its chance to take me and I’m still here,” she added. “I’m just so grateful to be alive and I’m not giving that up.”
Leading up to Rent, Settle — known for her roles on stage in Waitress and Les Misérables — told BroadwayBox that the process of working on the live TV musical felt like a homecoming of sorts.
“Coming off of Showman, post-surgery, and going into a theater project, it’s exciting,” she said, “And it feels like home! I miss the stage very much.”
She also praised director Michael Greif for helping her. “Michael is one of the most endearing, loyal, and sensitive directors I’ve ever worked with,” she said. “I had the privilege of working with him on a 54 Below project called Bright Lights, Big City a few years ago. It was an amazing experience and I was hoping someday to have the chance to work with him again. And it’s here!”
Loosely based on the opera La Boheme, Jonathan Larson’s Tony- and Pulitzer-winning rock musical Rent tells the story of a group of New York City artists dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1989.
In addition to Settle, the Fox production also stars Vanessa Hudgens, Jordan Fisher, Brennin Hunt, Tinashe, Kiersey Clemons, Mario, and RuPaul’s Drag Race favorite Valentina.
The show — directed by the musical’s original Broadway director Michael Grief (stage direction) and Alex Rudzinski (TV direction) — was produced by Larson’s estate alongside Mark Platt (Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, Grease Live, La La Land, Wicked).