Without You focuses on a key time in Rapp's professional and personal life. He was there at the beginning of the Rent phenomenon, as an original workshop participant. That storyof how the show went from workshop to Broadway and beyondis made all the more interesting when the actor talks about writer/composer/lyricist Jonathan Larson, who died unexpectedly just as Rent was debuting Off-Broadway. The excitement and joy of being a part of theatre history was offset by Rapp's concern for his mother, who at that time was in the early stages of a long bout with cancer. The parallels between Larson's death, Mrs. Rapp's health, and Rent's themes of "living for today" are interesting subtext for the show.
Rapp gives a fully committed performance. Of course, it's his life, so it's a natural fit, but there seems to be moresharing his memories through song and story are important. His unabashed energy and passion make this more than a simple narration of a segment of his life, and he connects very strongly with the audience. The songs from Rent serve as milestones for the progression of the story, but also as expressions of the emotions felt at those times. It's a special treat to hear Rapp sing Rent songs ("What You Own" and "With You") that are not sung by his character in the show. The new songs are lyrically from the heart, and the music is fresh and exciting. Emotions are heightened in "That Is Not You" and "Visits To You," and there's room for comedy relief with "Wild Bill." It's tough to fault such a personal and passionate journey, but the extended last scenes of his mother's tragic battle would hold just as much emotion in a more brief form. Also, when Rapp speaks as other characters, he is less effective than when he takes a more strict narrative approach. Otherwise, Rapp and director Steven Maler have successfully taken many opportunities to make the most out of what was on paper an average autobiography.
Making this a musical piece takes what was occasionally flat in the book and adds depth and diversity, so it really feels like a full-blown show, more than just a guy sitting on a stage talking about his book. Helping achieve this is that bandPaul Cunningham on keyboard, David Matos (also Music Director) on guitar, Dan Tomko on bass and shoeless A.T. Vish on drums. They add dimension aurally and physically, and Matos makes sure they don't overshadow. They are superb musicians and an integral part of this show.
Anthony Rapp in Without You continues at City Theatre through September 21. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org/.