How do you measure a year in the life? For the original star of Broadway’s Rent, it’s around 90 minutes –- a much shorter frame from the two-and-a-half-hour running time of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. Though one wishes that Anthony Rapp’s Without You, a song-heavy memoir that just opened Off Broadway, would pack more into its story, especially given the amiability and charm of its star.
Rapp has been a mainstay in the entertainment industry since his nine-year-old debut in the 1981 musicalized treatment of Broadway’s The Little Prince and the Aviator. It was a rocky start, given the fact that the show closed in previews.
From there, he went on to star in two cult classic films: Adventures in Babysitting and Dazed and Confused. With numerous credits in between, Rapp is currently a featured character in the Paramount+ series Star Trek Discovery, making history as one of the first openly gay characters in the franchise.
Oddly enough, there is nary a mention of any of these credits. Instead, Rapp is laser-focused on two major life-changing events: the sudden death of his friend, Jonathan Larson, the composer, lyricist, and book writer of Rent, and the passing of his mother, Mary Lee, who succumbed to breast cancer at age 55.
Personal grief should never be minimized, and it’s a bold choice to open oneself to the raw vulnerability of live performance, particularly when loss is the focal point. For all the emphasis on the loved ones, however, we’re left with a vague sketch of these individuals and the wisdom and meaning they left behind for Rapp.
Still, time has been kind to Rapp, who exudes a puckish and boyish aura. He’s never been considered a refined vocalist, but his raw, youthful voice remains strong as he revives well-known songs from Larson’s show. David Matos, Joe Pisapia, Daniel A. Weiss, and Rapp supply Without You with additional music that aligns with the rock style of Rent.
One of the best things Without You has in its favor is a phenomenal and hugely diverse band, under the musical direction of Weiss (who plays keyboards and provided arrangements). Cellist Clerida Eltime, bassist Paul Gil, drummer Jerry Marotta, and guitarist Lee Moretti all unite with Weiss to create tight, driving rhythms which enhance Rapp’s voice. Eric Southern’s scenic design frames each musician in crafty scaffolding and faux brick that evokes an appropriate bohemian vibe.
Director Steven Maler returns to guide the production, based on Rapp’s memoir of the same name. Previously, it had been staged in Boston, Edinburgh, Toronto, London, and Seoul, no doubt given the star’s recognition in the global phenomenon of Rent.
In spite of the omissions and a desire for a fuller picture of our leading man, Anthony Rapp’s Without You is a poignant reminder that life is indeed a precious, fragile gift and that now is always a good time to lavish love and care on those we cherish.
Anthony Rapp’s Without You is in a limited run through April 30 at New World Stages, 340 West 50th St. between 8th and 9th Avenues in New York City. Tickets are $110 to $149. Call 800-447-7400 or visit www.telecharge.com.
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