Hit rock musical Rent has inspired thousands of people with its powerful message to love fully and live each day as the last. (In fact, I struggled through my own teenage years singing its songs into a hairbrush and even performing ‘Out Tonight’ at a Butlins talent show.) Original cast member, Anthony Rapp, shares his experiences of working on the show and living in New York during the 90s in Without You.

The scene is set in 1994; Rapp is a struggling actor who has just taken a ‘survival job’ serving coffee in Starbucks. At a new musical audition, he sings R.E.M. classic ‘Losing My Religion’ and his life changes forever. He learns Rent’s now famous song ‘Seasons of Love’ at rehearsal and is enthralled not only by Jonathan Larson’s music, but the overriding positive message that it’s possible to live a full life in the face of adversity and disease. Rapp discovers lyrics, “to faggots, lezzies, dykes”, and realises the show’s innovativeness – you wouldn’t hear that line in an Andrew Lloyd Webber piece!

As Rent gains huge popularity and thrills Broadway audiences, Rapp describes the shocking and untimely death of show creator Larson as well as guiding the audience through his individual experiences in the same timeframe. His mother battles cancer and he flies back and forth from New York for hospital appointments as well as falling in love and coming out as gay. Rock music punctuates the narrative, with a number of songs from Rent sung fabulously by Rapp and accompanied by five hugely talented onstage musicians. Rapp’s tales range from sad and emotive to humorous, but the overwhelming feeling is one of optimism and courage.

Just as Rent always brings me to tears before leaving me feeling vibrant and determined to embrace life, Without You does exactly the same, confronting grief and illness with a life-affirming sense of positivity. Whether you’ve seen the musical that provided this show’s inspiration or not, Anthony Rapp’s performance is simply unmissable viewing at the Edinburgh Fringe.

***** 5/5 stars

Anthony Rapp: Without You is playing at Underbelly until 26 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.