InDepth InterView: Anthony Rapp Talks PSYCH: THE MUSICAL, IF/THEN, RENT Legacy, Upcoming Projects & More
Today we are talking to a talented and versatile stage and screen star who has created a lead role in one of the most iconic musicals of the last century as well as crafted a remarkable resume beyond even the Pulitzer Prize-winning RENT - Anthony Rapp. In honor of his spectacular guest starring turn on USA's hit detective series Psych in a special event titled PSYCH: THE MUSICAL, Rapp discusses his participation in the series entry as well as shares his enthusiasm for the impressive score and plethora of performances by the company of actors in the must-see musical spectacular. Also, taking a look back at his theatre career thus far, Rapp discusses his continuing legacy as one of the prime interpreters of rock musicals in the modern theatre, having famously starred in not only the original production and feature film adaptation of Jonathan Larson's RENT, but also appeared in noted productions of HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH and NEXT TO NORMAL's forerunner, FEELING ELECTRIC - not to mention the hotly anticipated new contemporary musical IF/THEN, in which he stars alongside fellow RENT alum Idina Menzel and which is set to open on Broadway in 2014 following a recent Washington, D.C. tryout. In addition to all about his theatre career and PSYCH: THE MUSICAL, Rapp also comments on his recording work to date, such as his solo project LOOK AROUND and his stunning entry in the Broadway Cares HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS charity album. Plus, Rapp looks ahead to his new film role opposite Broadway regular Cheyenne Jackson, OPENING NIGHT, as well as much, much more!
PSYCH: THE MUSICAL airs Sunday, December 15 at 9 PM on USA. More information on PSYCH: THE MUSICAL is available at the official site here.
You Need To Love Him
PC: PSYCH: THE MUSICAL is so unbelievably impressive. Have you seen the final finished episode all cut together yet?
AR: No, I haven't! I was invited to a screening a few months ago in LA, but I was working at the time, so I couldn't go. But, although I haven't seen it, I am very much looking forward to seeing it on Sunday night.
PC: It's a remarkable achievement for a regular series.
AR: People love it! I've heard a lot of great things about it.
PC: How did you become involved with PSYCH: THE MUSICAL in the first place?
AR: Basically, they just got in touch with me and offered me the part out of nowhere. I didn't even know Steve Franks, the creator of the show, or anything - I had never met him. So, I don't know if it was a mutual type of thing happening or my manager reached out to him or if they reached out to me - I don't know the whole story, but it was a great part and when it appeared was great timing for me.
PC: A recipe for success - and it certainly is.
AR: Yeah, it was really, really fun material to do - I had a great time. You know, I haven't really done a ton of other TV - I've done a handful of guest spots over the years and this is by far the most fun I have ever had.
PC: It really comes through in the episode.
AR: I'm really glad to hear that.
PC: It's certainly not toeing the line - it's a full-out musical with at least a dozen or so songs featured in it.
AR: No, no - it's the real thing! [Big Laugh.]
PC: Have you gotten a chance to hear the full soundtrack yet?
AR: I haven't heard all of the songs - of course, when you do a TV or a movie thing, everything is always done in pieces. So, I haven't heard the whole thing through yet, but I was lucky enough to be in the studio when some of the other guys were recording, so I heard some of that - it sounded great. From what I can tell from what I sang in the show, though, it was both a sort of send-up of and tribute to... it was affectionate to the medium.
PC: Playing a Phantom-esque role, I'm curious: have you ever been considered for a mega-musical part like that as far as you know?
AR: Never! Unless I was under consideration at some point and I wasn't aware of being under consideration or something.
PC: When was this episode filmed?
AR: This was actually done over a year ago now. USA was so happy with how it turned out that they wanted to hold onto it and make it more of an event.
PC: And they certainly are now, to say the least!
AR: They are. It's been in the can for a long time, though.
PC: How fantastic that you and Dule Hill both are going to be appearing on Broadway this season given his involvement with AFTER MIDNIGHT and yours with IF/THEN.
AR: Oh, is he still going to be doing the show then [in April]? He's such a great guy, let me tell you - he and James [Roday] welcomed me with the biggest open arms.
PC: How wonderful to hear.
AR: It was such a fun, supportive, easygoing, welcoming, creative, collaborative set - believe me. I mean, TV stars are under so much pressure - working 12 to 14 hours a day, every day, depending on what the schedule of the show is; and, they have to carry the whole thing! They do it day in and day out for months at a time and it's a grind, and, in some cases that can turn them into kind of monsters, but, in this case, it was the opposite - they were dreams; both of them.
PC: Did you get to spend anytime on set with fellow musical theatre man Barry Bostwick, who also appears in the episode?
AR: Just a little bit - we, like, road in the van together once or twice. We didn't have scenes together, really, too much, so we didn't have too much direct contact on set, but we had a really nice chat in the van on the way to the studio.
PC: Would you be open to recording a commentary for the episode given your elemental involvement in the proceedings?
AR: Sure! I hope they are doing a DVD and if they contact me about doing one I would be happy to. Definitely.
PC: On that topic, your commentary on the RENT DVD is so fascinating - and the documentary included is superlative; one of the best musical documentaries.
AR: Thank you for saying that - I agree. It's really great.
PC: What do you think of musical TV series in general - GLEE, SMASH and the recent resurgence of performance-based TV?
AR: Well, I'm just thrilled that TV has been a big part in sort of making people comfortable in going to see musicals, you know?
PC: It makes the form more relatable.
AR: Yeah, I guess people need to sort of get used to the notion of people breaking out into song as part of storytelling. [Laughs.] So, in terms of that, it's all good. But, for me, I still think there is nothing like people, live, singing in front of you.
PC: Nothing can replace live performance.
AR: No, it can't. And, you know, there's no Autotune on Broadway! [Laughs.]
PC: Certainly not!
AR: I mean unless people are having pre-recorded vocals or something now, but I don't think any shows are really doing that, as far as I know. But, yeah, I think it's sort of a great gateway drug, as it were.
PC: What a way to put it!
PC: What do you think of Glee taking on RENT? We premiered the cast's version of "Seasons Of Love" from the Cory Monteith tribute episode earlier this year on this very site, as a matter of fact.
AR: I think it's great that RENT has been part of the healing process for people who were friends of Cory's... and I can't even imagine what that's like. [Pause. Sighs.] I mean, I've certainly had friends who I've seen struggle with drugs and alcohol, but I haven't lost one due to those circumstances. It's an impossible situation and if that song in any way helped heal them... and I'm sure it did, because it certainly did us in losing Jonathan [Larson]. So, I think that's fantastic and I think them using it is continuing to honor Jonathan's legacy.
PC: What do you surmise he would think of the popularity of the performing arts in the 21st century versus the lack thereof back in the '90s?
AR: Well, I think what Jonathan always wanted was for musical theatre to reflect the real world and the fact that so many of these things are doing that now would make him really happy. I mean, I remember that he was getting so tired of spectacle - in terms of he could respect the artistry and what was involved with the writing of some of these things, but in terms of the human experience of having life reflected back at you he didn't feel was happening in the same way. It happened with the British invasion in the '80s. So much of what Jonathan was interested in was reflecting the real world - the modern world - and the concerns of everyday people and the medium at the time wasn't showing much of that kind of work. So, I think that he would be happy that all of this stuff would be existing - I mean, I can't imagine why he wouldn't be!
PC: It's beneficial for everyone in the industry, clearly.
AR: Of course, I'm not sure that he would personally like every individual project... [Laughs.]
PC: Of course not.
AR: But, yeah, I think he would be happy that the form was being forwarded in this way.
PC: Another notable part from your past is HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH, which was also famously played by Ally Sheedy - who you appear with in PSYCH: THE MUSICAL, incidentally. Did you two discuss your fellow association with that show at all at any point recently?
AR: Oh, she was great! We spent a lot of time together, actually - we were on the same flight going out to Vancouver, although we didn't realize that until we landed!
PC: What happened?
AR: Well, we were in the airport and we were going through immigration and customs together and then we rode in to the city together after that - so, we had a nice long time to spend together and chat. She's great - super-smart, very interesting; she's a super-dedicated mom to her daughter. And, to answer your question, we did talk about HEDWIG a little bit, actually.
PC: What do you think of the upcoming Broadway production?
AR: I mean, I think it's great that's it's going to have the chance to be seen by a bunch more people, and, because Neil [Patrick Harris] is in it, he is such a superstar that that will open the door and I imagine a bunch of people who aren't that familiar with the material will be introduced to this incredible piece. I think that's so great - I think HEDWIG is one of the great things that has been written in the last twenty years.
PC: Having famously starred in RENT and HEDWIG as well as your association with Tom Kitt via FEELING ELECTRIC and now IF/THEN, do you feel a particular kinship to rock musicals?
AR: I very much do - very much.
PC: Do you think HEDWIG has become dated at all at this point?
AR: No. I think HEDWIG is a universal story about learning to become your fullest self - of course, it has some very time-specific references to a certain era of music that Hansel grew up listening to, but I don't think that dates it in a way that makes it unable to be revived and continue on. I mean, I guess if people had no reference to the Berlin Wall, that might date it a little bit someday, but I think that anybody who is familiar with modern world history now should be aware of the Berlin Wall... [Laughs.]
PC: What do you think of the place of rock musicals on Broadway now - IF/THEN clearly has a contemporary score? Your big song certainly seems like it could even crossover, could it not?
AR: Well, it's so hard to tell anymore! I mean, I don't see why not, but the music industry is in such a weird place right now that I don't know how certain things even work. I mean, I don't even really listen to the radio anymore - I listen to my collection of music and that will lead me to finding things through Pandora or whatever. So, there's no reason why this music couldn't be heard like that I don't think, but who knows anymore how these things are discovered by people and then put on the radio or wherever people hear things.
PC: It's very mysterious.
AR: I love Tom Kitt's music, though, and I definitely think that it's got this interesting mixture of theatricality and at the same time is very driven by pop and rock ideas, which some theatre writers and some theatre-goers don't really know how to recognize - they can't quite relate to it emotionally in the same way or something, I think. I mean, there are even people I know who don't like the music to NEXT TO NORMAL that much or whatever and that's baffling to me, but it is what it is - but, I guess there are certain bands that I listen to that a lot of people wouldn't like in the same way. But, his music and his sensibilities are so up my alley.
PC: You really respond to his material on a personal level.
AR: I really do. He absolutely, to me, is walking in the footsteps of Jonathan.
PC: High praise indeed - particularly coming from you.
AR: You know, he has a different feel in many ways and sometimes a very different approach than Jonathan, but there is definitely a through-line and a connection there to me.
PC: He brings the modern and the musical together so well. Have you perhaps worked on material by him strictly in a different or period style over the years, perhaps, given your association?
AR: Actually, there's a song that I have in IF/THEN - a duet with Jason Tam - that is sort of a jazz/swing sort of waltz. It doesn't sound like anything else I've ever heard Tom write - and it really has sort of a throwback feel to it. It's not classic musical theatre like Rodgers & Hammerstein, but it has a more Sondheim-y-ish feel. It definitely feels less driven by pop and rock than a lot of the other things in the score.
PC: How did you first experience the IF/THEN score? Did you hear a demo or attend a reading or what?
AR: It was the first time we did a reading, which was over two years ago now - the fall of 2011. The first day of rehearsal was the first day I heard it - you know, sitting down and learning the music. I hadn't heard anything at all going in, but I wasn't worried about it! [Laughs.]
PC: I'd imagine not! Was Idina already involved?
AR: Yes. They wrote the part for Idina and they wrote the part for me - or at least with me in mind - and I'm just so happy that it worked out.
PC: What was the developmental process of the piece after that?
AR: There were a couple of workshops - they call them labs a lot now. Over two years, I think we did four or five - it's a little hard to keep track of, actually. And, it's a little hard to keep track of what came and went in each version as it was evolving, too. But, it just kept getting better and better. It didn't completely come to fruition until this spring, though - that's when we got the official word that we were moving forward.
PC: Having just finished your Washington, D.C. tryout, what can you tell us about the show without revealing too much of the plot - especially given the revelations in this piece in particular?
AR: Well, I think that the most important plot-point to know going in is that it does tell two possible versions of what Idina's character's life and the characters in her life go through from the day she comes back to New York - and it follows two tracks from there and it goes back and forth between those two possible outcomes throughout. So, you know, in one life, she gets a particular job and in another she gets a different job and there are several other factors that are different between the two.
PC: You play two sides of the sexual coin with your character, Lucas - do you relish that sort of opportunity as an actor?
AR: It's cool - it's really cool. The character is bisexual, so there are certainly very few bisexual characters who have been represented in storytelling, so it's nice to be a part of that, for sure.
PC: What was your first reaction to the show yourself, particularly your big song? Was it always in the score?
AR: Yes. "You Don't Need To Love Me" was in the first version, at the reading - I mean, some of the lyrics have changed slightly since then, but it's very much been a part of the score since the beginning. I remember when Tom sat down at the piano and sang it for the first time for me I was very, very moved and proud to get the opportunity to bring it to life.
PC: Were there other moments you particularly responded to immidiately, from what you remember?
AR: Well, there's a sequence that wasn't in the first draft - I don't think it became a part of it until earlier this year, actually; it's in Act II and it goes from one side of the scene in one story to directly the same scene in the other side of the story and the moods and the vibe of these two scenes just could not be any more different. So, for me, it's one of my favorite parts to do every night - to make that transition so completely and quickly; to, you know, fully do one and then fully do the other. Of course, I can't talk in too much detail about what it is I do, but that sort of thing is pretty exciting for me.
PC: As well it should be.
AR: And, then, as I'm sure you know, there is Idina's big eleven o'clock number that she has, which is truly one of the great songs I have ever heard - ever. [Pause.] She's incredible.
PC: Twenty minutes or so has been trimmed from the show over the course of out-of-town tryouts, is that true?
AR: Yeah - about that much. And, they have plans for continued changes - I don't know what - between now and when we open on Broadway. So, we'll see.
PC: Will there be a lab in between now and then?
AR: No, we actually just start rehearsal again at the end of January.
PC: So, what are you planning on doing on your time off?
AR: Well, I am going on a little vacation in January, but, basically, they have been doing a lot of renovations on my apartment since I have been gone so there is a lot of stuff that I need to now put in order and put in place and so I am going to take this time to make my home the best that it can be - which has been a long time coming.
PC: IF/THEN, PSYCH: THE MUSICAL, and, also a film role - tell us about OPENING NIGHT with Cheyenne Jackson.
AR: Oh, yeah - OPENING NIGHT. That was another thing that kind of just came out of the blue. I didn't even know this when I first got the offer, but the director, Jack Robbins, is the son of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. He turned out to be a really great guy, but I had my first conversation with him not even knowing that's who he was. So, I took the job just based on the script and talking to him - and, believe me, I don't always get these offers without even auditioning or anything, but it's nice when it happens. So, that movie was another one of those cases.
PC: What can you tell us about the story itself?
AR: It's a really sweet and funny story about a high school drama teacher, played by myself, who is directing a production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and it's opening night and all of these crazy things happen over the course of the night.
PC: Such as?
AR: Well, as is the case with so many drama programs across the country, they are in danger of being de-funded, so those are the stakes behind it all, but it's really an ensemble piece - all of these really interesting kids who are part of the production and my character and then Cheyenne's character, who is this star who comes to see the show. So, I haven't seen the finished film yet, but it was really a great project to work on - especially right before IF/THEN.
PC: Did you enjoy working with Cheyenne, in particular? Another Broadway baby.
AR: Oh, of course! And, the thing about Cheyenne is that he is so funny! I guess people sort of know that because he did 30 ROCK, but he is supremely funny in real-life - and he is so easy on his feet. I mean, he can do improv - he can do everything.
PC: Film, TV, theatre - what about another solo album someday? Will you ever follow up LOOK AROUND? It's so good.
AR: Thank you for that. I don't know, though, to be honest - the music thing was a wonderful side project and in that case it was elements coming together and I had great collaborators and access to the studio, so we just did it. It's not my driving focus, of course, but if it were to happen again I'd be happy to do it. There was a time when I was considering recording my show WITHOUT YOU and we did, but we didn't do a big release of it yet because we were hoping it would come to New York and we would tie in a release to that.
PC: What about filming WITHOUT YOU? Have you considered it?
AR: That's a possibility, as well. You see, there are a lot of rights issues involved because there are so many different pieces of music in it and different writers of music, so there is a lot that would have to be sorted out for that to happen, but it is certainly a possibility. But, the primary goal and focus of it all is to do a production in New York - the question is when.
PC: Isn't it always?!
AR: It is. I mean, I hope IF/THEN lasts a very long time and that keeps me busy for hopefully at least a year from when we open, so we will see.
PC: Are you committed already to a full year with IF/THEN?
AR: Yes. We all signed for a full-year, starting on Broadway.
PC: Will the cast album be recorded between now and opening night or will you be waiting until the spring to record?
AR: We have to see how much re-writing happens, so we can't really record until the score is as close to set as it can be.
PC: There has been so little video or audio material released! It's frustrating for fans to have so little to go on, but the score is definitely worth the wait.
AR: There has been some of the sitzprobe that has been released, but you're right - that's about it! There is no video footage of the show out there at all, I don't think.
PC: Are you excited to be returning to Broadway at last?
AR: Yes, I am. The last time I did a show was actually when Adam [Pascal] and I went back into RENT in '07.
PC: What do you think of how Broadway has changed since RENT debuted nearly twenty years ago now? It's changed a lot - especially Times Square and the theatre district.
AR: Times Square is sort of strange, but I am happy that people feel safe and are eager to come and see shows - and I am happy that there is such an audience that continues to come to New York and see shows. Sure, Times Square is a little hectic - I am already anticipating what paths to take to and from the theatre because sometimes you get caught up in the maelstrom of it and you can't even move.
PC: Adding the construction to it all, it's a pretty big mess.
AR: We were actually there when we were rehearsing IF/THEN a little while ago, so I know it's pretty crazy right now - but the fact that so many shows are doing so well right now is fantastic and we really hope that we can be a part of that.
PC: I have to say, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING until now, you look virtually the same - what exactly is the secret to eternal youth?
AR: I eat well; I don't drink very much; I don't do drugs - I do yoga and I drink a lot of water and I just take care of myself. I don't live hard.
PC: Are you open to doing more TV in the future given your memorable performance in PSYCH: THE MUSICAL?
AR: I certainly would be open to doing more work on good shows. Of course, if you get locked in to doing a show that doesn't work or is with weird people, it can be dire and you can be stuck in it for years, so I would want to be really, really selective. But, it seems like the quality of a lot of these shows is more and more exceeding the quality of other media.
PC: One last thing I have to add is your medley on the Broadway Cares HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS album is exquisite - 'tis the season, after all. Do you have any memory of recording that?
AR: Oh, totally! I enjoyed recording that so much. Everett [Bradley] is such a nice guy and I have done a lot of things over the years with him and his charity, Our Time, that is a theatre company and camp and training center for kids who stutter - Everett is the musical director of that.
PC: How amazing!
AR: Among the things that they do, he co-writes songs with the kids and they perform them at the annual gala - he and his band and the kids and other performers; I've done that a couple of times now myself and it's always really great.
PC: What a heartwarming codicil! This was absolutely fantastic today, Anthony - thank you.
AR: Thank you very much, too, Pat. Take care. Bye.
Photo Credits: Walter McBride, etc.
More On: Anthony Rapp, Psych, Jonathan Larson, Idina Menzel, Cheyenne Jackson, USA, Barry Bostwick, Glee, Cory Monteith.