Friday, April 14, 2023

NYC Theater Trip 2023: "Without You" at New World Stages

Show*: 2

Title: Without You

Location: New World Stages

Written By: Anthony Rapp with music by Jonathan Larson

Summary: A solo show by RENT's original Mark that continues the musical's themes of grief, love, loss, and healing.

Highlights: Anthony's 2006 memoir Without You chronicles the beginnings of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical as well as Anthony’s personal life during that time. Living with his playwright brother Adam in a small East Village apartment, they were, like the characters in RENT, trying to make it as artists in NYC. Meanwhile their mother was fighting her own battle with cancer back in their hometown just outside Chicago, and they were flying back and forth to visit her until her death during RENT's original run. Anthony adapted his book into this piece that combines storytelling, music, and photos. He plays all of the characters in the story, many with that familiar Midwestern twang. The show is a beautiful tribute to his mother, who supported his career from childhood despite her own struggles. Anthony sings multiple songs from RENT, including some that Mark doesn't sing ("One Song Glory" and the title song "Without You"). It's always a thrill to hear this music that I fell in love with 27 years ago from one of those original voices (which BTW sounds better than ever). Anthony also co-wrote a few original songs that aptly express the various stages of this journey, with David Matos, Joe Pisapia, and Daniel A. Wiess. The latter leads the awesome five-piece onstage band, as well as music directing and orchestrating. Next to Normal composer Tom Kitt provided some arrangements, making these very familiar songs sound new and interesting. The story moves briskly over 90 minutes (condensing the book, which I'm currently re-reading), and the staging has Anthony moving around the stage with a table and a few mismatched chairs in front of a brick wall, reminiscent of RENT's original set design (direction by Steven Maler, scenic and lighting design by Eric Southern).

As readers of this blog know, RENT has always held a special place in my heart, but now, 27 years after first encountering it, I'm at an age where I have experienced grief and loss. And I see my own life stretching out longer behind me than ahead of me, making this show even more meaningful. The stories around RENT (Jonathan's untimely death, Anthony's loss of his mother, and our own stories) make its themes even richer and more resonant. No day but today, indeed. Thank you Jonathan Larson, and thank you Anthony Rapp for continuing his work and his legacy.

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2023 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts