BWW Review: Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp Entertain at Strathmore
In 1996/1997, I remember all of the musical theater geeks in my high school chorus were obsessing over Jonathan Larson's groundbreaking musical RENT. It was like the HAMILTON of my teenage years and everyone knew every song. Fast forward to 2017, it's been 21 years since the show opened on Broadway, and leading men Adam Pascal (Roger Davis) and Anthony Rapp's (Mark Cohen) names became forever intertwined.
They still get together for what could be defined a comfortable and exquisitely performed jam session. One of those jam sessions - called ADAM & ANTHONY LIVE - took place at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland last night, and it proved to be a veritable treat for this longtime admirer of Pascal and Rapp's work on the Broadway stage and beyond since their RENT days.
Adam, taking the stage first, took the opportunity to shed light on his music influences. Covering Elton John, the Beatles, the Police, and many others the bass-playing vocal powerhouse commanded the stage with every number. Whether you are the biggest musical theater nerd ever (like I am) and only have heard of Elton John for his work on THE LION KING and AIDA (in which Adam originated a role), or you happen to share Adam's taste in music, one thing is for certain. He digs deep into the emotional core of any lyric, and convincingly brings you on his journey. Demonstrating impeccable vocal control and range, he got the concert off to an exceedingly strong start backed by his equally talented band (Larry Edoff and Tyger MacNeal). While I would have liked to hear more about why the songs he chose were so important to him, his performances were enough to keep me captivated and wanting more.
Anthony also focused on the theme of "influences," but in a different - and slightly more diverse - way. R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" was Anthony's audition song for RENT. An emotional rendition of that song, accompanied by his tremendously talented band (Daniel Weiss, David Malachowski, Paul Gil, Peter Sachon, and Jerry Moratta), paved the way for performances of songs that have appeared in Broadway musicals written by those who - like Jonathan Larson did - seek to take musical theater in new directions. With this came the rocking "The Origin of Love" (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH), an emotionally-stirring rendition of "Falling Slowly" (ONCE), and the contemplative "You Don't Need to Love Me" (IF/THEN, in which Anthony originated the role of Lucas in the pre-Broadway run at the National Theatre in DC). He rounded out this portion of the set with "Wait for It," from HAMILTON, which was particularly intriguing because it's a song that he might not otherwise perform. He made me hear it with a fresh pair of ears.
Anthony's exploration of "influences" also took on the notion of family. His original song "Visits to You," which recalls the memories of visiting with his mother during the last year or so of her life, is filled with heartfelt lyrics, which his performance matched. Simple and understated, yet purposeful, it made just as much of an impact as the other songs he performed.
Towards the end of the concert, Adam and Anthony joined forces to perform a few songs that RENT fans were probably waiting for, judging by the audience reaction. "Without You," "What You Own," "One Song Glory," and "Seasons of Love" are some of those iconic numbers we all remember, and Adam and Anthony's performances gave little indication that much time has passed since that Broadway opening. Each was stellar, but I particularly appreciated the arrangement for "Seasons of Love." "One Song Glory," sung by Adam Pascal, also was a high point.
It was a night of brilliant music performed in front of a wonderfully diverse and appreciative crowd at Strathmore that we won't soon forget.
Running Time: Nearly two hours with no intermission.
ADAM & ANTHONY LIVE took place at the Music Center at Strathmore (5301 Tuckerman Lane in North Bethesda, Maryland) on April 28, 2017. For information on upcoming performances at the Strathmore, including Broadway's Audra McDonald on May 26, visit https://www.strathmore.org/.
Photo: Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp pictured; courtesy of Strathmore website.