‘Rent’ star illustrates what life is like ‘Without You’

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‘Rent’ star illustrates what life is like ‘Without You’

When “Rent” opened in the 1990’s, it was groundbreaking in its critical portrayal of artists struggling with poverty and homelessness in the era of AIDS. It garnered a host of positive reviews and propelled its cast to fame before moving to Broadway to become the ninth-longest running musical of its time. But for the cast, the accolades came with an equal measure of grief as its creator Jonathan Larson (1960-1996) had died on the day before opening night.

For Anthony Rapp, who originally played the role of Mark Cohen, the death of Larson was the second blow at a time when he was watching his mother battle cancer.

Rapp recounted his experiences during that time in the best-selling memoir “Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical ‘Rent’?” (2006), which he later developed into a one-man show that is currently running in Seoul until March 4.

Like the book, the show is a moving homage to the people in his life during that time and the lessons he gleaned from his experiences. “Without You” premiered at Pittsburgh’s City Theater in 2008 and has since won acclaim from critics.

The show opens with Rapp reminiscing about his audition for “Rent” as he sings the song that got him the job, R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” and talks about how even though he didn’t fully understand the concept of rock opera, he was soon learning on the fly when the producers called him back and asked him to perform some of the prospective musical numbers. He was eventually cast and in the original Off Broadway production playing Mark Cohen, a struggling Jewish filmmaker who is also the narrator.

In “Without You,” he conveys his love for the musical that propelled him to fame, singing several of its most popular hits, including the beloved “Seasons of Love.”

He recalls how the song stuck in his head the first time he sang it, and savors the moments he enjoyed during that time.

The song is one of the more than 15 numbers he sings during the production; the repertoire also includes some of his own compositions.

In between songs, Rapp recreates conversations with the people in his life, including his mother, who had always supported him even before he was famous. At first, we laughed at his humorous rendition of his fun-loving mother, but it’s not long before his sensitive portrayal had us in tears as we felt she was really with us and about to slip away.

His account of Larson’s untimely death is equally as moving and provides valuable insight into both the man and the musical.

Ultimately, it is Rapp’s comic timing that uplifts the story, but it is his vulnerability as he relays what it was like at the time of her death that gives the story its weight.

Rapp has performed in Korea three times, including in the current show and at first with “Rent” in 2009. The Tony-award winning musical is a perennial audience favorite here and has been presented in both Korean translation and with a touring cast.

If you haven’t seen “Rent,” you will want to after this, and if you have, Rapp’s performance will make you want to see it again. But most of all, the show makes you appreciate the performer behind the curtain.

“Without You” runs until March 4 at KT&G SangSang Art Hall in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul. The musical is performed in English with Korean subtitles. The performance starts at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 3 and 7 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The March 1 performance starts at 7 p.m. Tickets range from 44,000 won ($39) to 66,000 won. The Korean translation of Rapp’s memoir, though not the English original, is on sale in the lobby for 14,000 won. Go to Samgseong Station, line No. 2, exit 2. For details, visit www.sangsangarthall.com or call 1544-1681.

By Lee Sun-min [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]
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