The mid-90s could have been the best of times for Anthony Rapp, who was still in his young twenties when he was tapped to play Mark, one of the leads in Rent, a musical that went on to become a phenomenon. But his biggest success came amid a wave of tragedy, weighing down a moment when he otherwise would have been flying high.
Rapp chronicles this moment in his new solo show, Without You, based on his 2006 book. Using a combination of Rent songs and original composition, he walks the audience through the highs: getting the part in the show, his admiration for composer Jonathan Larson, the growing outside interest in the show, while also reflecting the support he received from his mother Mary Lee, a single parent and pediatric nurse, back home in Joliet, Illinois.
But the bough breaks. As many know, Larson died of an undiagnosed heart issue just before Rent began preview off-Broadway. While the company rallied and the show moved to Broadway, Rapp also had to content with his mother’s losing battle with cancer.
Without You, directed with compassion by Steven Maler, addresses a very specific moment in time. One can’t help but empathize with Rapp, who starred in a show about thriving amid a sea od disease and loss, while addressing it in his personal life. And it’s also amazing to marvel at how much has changed in less than thirty years – how much information would have been exchanged differently if the Internet and smartphones existed when these events occurred. We live very differently now. (Though Rapp’s excellent voice remains unchanged.)
I do wish we had a little more life in the show, however. Rapp plays it safe and lean. On one hand, Without You serves as a nice tribute to both Larson and to his mother. On the other, he has removed most himself from the proceedings. I believe it when he refers to Larson as a friend, but we never hear about the friendship aside from one dinner party at Larson’s apartment to which Rapp was invited. He makes a big deal about Larson’s posthumous Pulitzer Prize win, but mentions nothing about the show’s other honors, including the 1996 Tony Awards – and how it felt to be the only lead to go unnominated through the process. And he mentions falling in love around the time Rent premiered as well as how he was living with his brother, the playwright Adam Rapp, but he seems to visit and deal with his mother’s condition always on his own. Why?
It would also be interesting to see how his life has moved forward since those days. Without You brings us back to a very specific moment but it never transcends into a window to anything greater.
Still, I miss that moment in time.
New World Stages