Anthony Rapp is an American actor who got his lucky break originating the role of Mark in Jonathan Larson’s Rent. Rapp worked with Larson, starting with a stage reading in 1993 before progressing into a three week studio run. However, Larson died the night before the opening night and the cast, including Rapp, decided that the world premiere of the show would be a straight forward run through. The cast, however, couldn’t contain themselves; charging from the electric atmosphere of an audience that included Larson’s parents, by the time ‘La Vie Boheme’ played they took to the stage to perform the show they had been rehearsing and developing with their dear friend. In turn, the show transferred to Broadway in 1996, closing in 2008.
Rapp presents this one man show of ‘Without You’, which comes after he penned a book of the same title in 2006. Despite being 16 years since the death of Larson and the incredible opening debut of Rent, Rapp performs the account with the emotional fragility that would have you believe it was the first time he was telling the story. There’s real emotion and a sense of anguish within his performance that silences the room and has the audience hanging on every word.
After the narrative tells of the change in ‘Rappy’s’ career from the inevitable jobbing actor role serving mochas in Starbucks, the story starts to focus more on Rapp’s personal life and his relationship with his dying mother. He skillfully presents others in his life with consistent and believable voices over the course of the 80 minute production. Whether or not they are accurate in representation, I guess only few would know, but it is important to specify that these personas Rapp dips in and out of are not caricatures but seem genuine, enough so to bring a tear as he enacts an emotion felt ‘last goodbye’ with his mother.
A strong knowledge of Rent and its music would be of a distinct advantage to the audience, as the narrative is interjected seamlessly with snippets from the famous score and you can’t help but think, “that’s the actual Mark in front of me”. The latter half of the show opens up to a wider audience, although I am certain audiences will be fully aware of who they are seeing and that it will be the sole reason for their attendance.
For the musical theatre fan, the show doesn’t disappoint in serving up a look at Rent and the themes it explores by a man who was there and has lived it ever since. It is pretty extraordinary how the man, Jonathan Larson, who proclaimed himself to be “the future of musical theatre” at a birthday party for Rapp, died the night before his show was due to open. The Meniere encapsulates that special atmosphere of being let in to a part of musical theatre history and this only becomes a greater energy as Rapp, who is in fine voice, fills the room with strong vocals that don’t falter and more than exceed any expectation from previous recordings.
The show is emotionally charged and credit to Rapp for finding the energy to perform such a piece daily, which delves deeply into personal accounts of losing loved ones, his own sexuality and success. As he takes to the stage to sing ‘Without You’, I imagine many a tear had been shed and Rapp more than deserves the applause that rings out in the room.
Anthony Rapp’s Without You is playing at The Menier Chocolate Factory until 15 September. For more information and tickets, see the Menier Chocolate Factory website. Image by Nobby Clark