Review: ANTHONY RAPP'S WITHOUT YOU Looks at the Joy and Sadness in RENT Star's Life

One-person show runs at Calderwood Pavilion through April 14.

By: Apr. 06, 2024
Review: ANTHONY RAPP'S WITHOUT YOU Looks at the Joy and Sadness in RENT Star's Life
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Singer and actor Anthony Rapp has been through a lot in the 30 years since he went from struggling Starbucks barista to a Broadway star.

Rapp’s rise began when he did a 1994 workshop of “Rent,” composer Jonathan Larson’s musical loosely based on the Puccini opera “La Bohème.” Larson’s unexpected death from an aortic aneurysm on January 25, 1996, the night before the show’s first off-Broadway preview, only further fueled interest in the already much talked-about musical that went on to win a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Larson, and four` Tony Awards.

While “Rent” and the passing of composer, lyricist, and playwright Larson made front-page headlines, Rapp and his castmates were left to deal with their loss while carrying on with the show amid intense public and media interest.

For Rapp, his time of great career success was also a period of great personal loss, as his mother, Mary Lee Rapp, succumbed to cancer at age 55 on May 22, 1997. In the months leading up to his mother’s death, Rapp would fly from New York to Joliet, Illinois, to spend every moment he could with her.

Along the way, Rapp wrote of both the sadness and the joy of his life, and the role the seminal rock musical played in it, in his best-selling 2006 autobiography, “Without You: A Memoir of Loss, Love, and the Musical ‘Rent.’” He subsequently collaborated with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s (CSC) founding artistic director Steven Maler on a one-person show, “Without You,” that CSC presented in Boston in 2015 and which Rapp also performed in New York, Toronto, Edinburgh, and London. Under Maler’s deft direction, the show’s current visit to Boston is being presented by ATG Colonial at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA through April 14.

Backed by a talented five-piece band, Rapp opened the show with REM’s “Losing My Mind,” his “Rent” audition song, and carried the story forward with a blend of original songs and selections from “Rent,” including the title song plus “Seasons of Love,” “La Vie Bohème,” and “Without You.” At the show’s recent Boston press opening, Rapp’s vocals were a reminder that almost 30 years have passed since he first sang some of these songs. The capacity crowd – including a healthy contingent of modern-day “Rent-heads” – didn’t seem to notice, though, and heartily applauded each familiar number.

Rapp played independent filmmaker Mark Cohen from 1995 to 1997 off-Broadway and on, reprised his role for the 2005 feature film adaptation, returned to Broadway for a limited run in 2007, and headlined a 2009 national tour, so “Rent” is definitely his signature show.

In “Without You,” it seems to be his only major credit, with no mention made of his other Broadway appearances – in 1990’s “Six Degrees of Separation,” the 1999 revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” in which he played the title role, or 2014’s “If/Then” – nor his work in films like 1987’s “Adventures in Babysitting,”  “1992’s “School Ties,” and 1993’s “Dazed and Confused,” or his current role in “Star Trek: Discovery” on CBS-TV’s All Access.

Running just one act, and 90 minutes in length, Rapp only has time to cover “Rent” and the loss of his beloved mother, which is presented in moving but limited fashion. His gentle evocation of her sweet voice and Midwestern accent make us want to know more about her and their relationship. His siblings, who get only scant mention here, might also have provided interesting material to flesh out this piece and help us more fully understand Rapp.

In “Without You,” while we get an insider’s perspective – complete with humorous asides about Rapp’s co-stars Daphne Rubin-Vega and Adam Pascal – on one of the seminal musicals of the last half-century, and a wistful look at the pain and grief that can accompany the loss of a parent, Rapp keeps us mostly on the outside of what is clearly a very personal, perhaps still raw story.

Photo caption: Anthony Rapp in a scene from “Anthony Rapp’s Without You,” being presented by ATG Colonial at the Calderwood Pavilion through April 14. Photo by Russ Rowland.


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