Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp: Acoustically Speaking" at the Ordway

Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp in Acoustically Speaking
(photo courtesy of the Ordway)
When someone asks me what my favorite musical is, my usual answer is: there are many musicals that I love, but only one whose lyrics are permanently tattooed on my body. That would be RENT: "no day but today." It's hard to say exactly why RENT has meant so much to me over the last 22 years. Growing up in suburban Minnesota, I didn't know much about Broadway, except for what I saw on the Tony Awards show. When RENT swept the Tonys in 1996 and went on to become a cultural phenomenon that year (think: Hamilton), I was in my early 20s, living on my own for the first time, trying to figure out this thing called life, much like the characters in the musical. For that and many other reasons, I really connected with it, and I fell in love with RENT - my first musical theater love.

I first experienced RENT live on stage at the Ordway in 1997 as part of the first national tour. I saw it twice during that first run, and at last count have seen it 15 times, including every tour that's come through the Twin Cities, on Broadway, off-Broadway, and a couple local productions. I was lucky enough to see the tour that original cast members Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal did in 2009, my first time seeing either of them perform live, which was an absolute thrill. I've since seen them in other things (Anthony in If/Then on Broadway and on tour, and Adam earlier this year in the tour of Something Rotten). But seeing an original member of the cast and the show that I fell in love with 22 years ago will never get old. Over the past few years Adam and Anthony been performing together, and they finally brought their "Acoustically Speaking" show to the Ordway, where my love for RENT was born.

Adam and Anthony released a live recording of their 2016 concert at Feinstein's 54 Below, and the show they performed at the Ordway's gorgeous concert hall this weekend was similar to that, although with a few changes. The evening begins with Adam Pascal, alone on stage with his guitar. Before he was cast in RENT, he wanted to be a rock star, and I would argue that he is, although in a musical theater sort of way (did you see him as The Bard?!). He sang a couple of original songs from his solo albums, as well as some unexpected musical theater choices, including "Mama Who Bore Me" from Spring Awakening, "Johanna" from Sweeney Todd, and "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret (in which he played the emcee on Broadway in the early aughts). Each song sounded uniquely him, with that rocker wail combined with a lovely falsetto; his voice has never sounded better. And I don't think he can get away without singing "Glory" from RENT, which he did, beautifully.

After Adam's set, it was Anthony's turn. Both were so personable and unscripted, chatting with the audience and each other, telling stories from their lives. Anthony started with his RENT audition song, which RENTheads know is R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion." He sang a few musical theater songs from shows he's done ("Happiness" from You're A Good Man Charlie Brown, "The Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and shows he loves ("Falling Slowly" from Once, "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" from Jersey Boys, which he noted is one of the few good jukebox musicals, a fact we agree on). He also sang a couple of RENT songs - "No Day But Today" and "Without You," which he sang at his mother's memorial service during the original run of RENT. It was so wonderful to watch him perform as he shared a bit of his life's journey with us.

Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal in the original production of RENT
(photo by Joan Marcus)
The 90-minute show ended much too soon, with Mark and Roger's iconic duet "What You Own," just as vibrant and urgent as ever, even though we're all 20 years older and well into the beginning of the new millennium. Finally, their encore (which they didn't really bother leaving the stage for) had to be "Seasons of Love," which brought this audience of RENTheads to their feet, clapping along.

This was a truly unforgettable evening, and many thanks to the Ordway for bringing RENT to us in the first place, and for bringing these two back to continue the RENT love. It makes me so happy that Adam and Anthony are still friends, still performing together, just as I imagine the fictional Roger and Mark would still be friends in their 40s, even if they've moved to the suburbs with boring non-bohemian jobs. That's what happened to me, although I still have the bohemian life of a theater blogger and my undying love for Jonathan Larson's beautiful, joyful, inspirational creation RENT to remind me to live life as if there were "no day but today."