It feels like just yesterday that Jonathan Larson's game-changing musical Rent set the theatrical world on fire, but in reality, it was 20 years ago. If, as Larson so movingly pointed out, so much can happen in the span of 525,600 minutes, even more can take place over the course of two decades as people come and go from our lives, and living situations inevitably change. If we're lucky, there will be at least one friendship we can depend on, that can endure through good and bad for that length of time. If we have the kind of relationship as Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, it's more than luck. It's a blessing.
Pascal and Rapp, of course, starred in Rent when it opened at New York Theatre Workshop in 1996 and subsequently took the show to Broadway, London, the big screen, and across the world. Respectively, they've gone onto other shows. Rapp has been seen on Broadway in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and If/Then, and Pascal has taken on roles in Cabaret and Disaster! But Rent is the show for which they're best known, the show that turned them into great buddies, and the one that they're currently celebrating in a new Feinstein's/54 Below engagement that concludes October 22.
The 90-minute evening will no doubt go down in the venue's history as one of the most sterling to be presented. Divided into two halves with a joint encore, the concert showcased both performers at the top of their game in a truly memorable fashion.
Pascal was the first one out and offered the more surprising set of the two. His was a soulful mélange of tunes arranged for solo guitar, on which he accompanied himself. The iconic rawness of Pascal's voice satisfyingly brought to life a mixture of folk songs and showtunes, a list that included "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret, a mashup of Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should've Come Over" and Sweeney Todd's "Johanna," "Over at the Frankenstein Place" from The Rocky Horror Show, and, most delightfully, "Memory" from Cats.
Much of Rapp's set was a tribute to his mother, who died of cancer shortly after Rent took the stage. The tear-jerking set list featured heartfelt renditions of "Happiness" from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and "Without You" from Rent, as well as exceptional renderings of REM's "Losing My Religion" and "The Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. If/Then tour cast member English Bernhardt joined Rapp for a pair of lovely duets: "Falling Slowly" from Once and Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up." Two skilled musicians, cellist Peter Sachon and pianist and guitarist Daniel Weiss, backed his part of the evening. Weiss was also part of the Rent family, having played the same instruments as part of the show's original band.
Pascal and Rapp came together to close the show with selections from Rent, which were the evening's obvious highlight. For those who listened to the double-disc cast album on a loop (and still play it regularly on Spotify), it was a startling experience. Their voices haven't aged a day. As they sang "What You Own" and "Seasons of Love," with Pascal hitting the high notes, it became a loving flashback to a simpler time, when the late Larson's rock opera changed the way everyone viewed Broadway musicals, and set the scene for an enduring camaraderie that still brings joy to everyone involved.
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