By Melissa Griegel . . .
Anthony Rapp (Rent, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, If/Then) opened his August 29th Feinstein’s show with the song that launched his career: R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.” Rapp explained, “This is the song I sang in my audition for Rent. This is the song that changed my life.” Rapp is best-known for his iconic role of Mark Cohen in the Tony Award winning musical Rent.
For the delight of the Rent fans at 54 Below, Rapp’s set-list included three songs from the show: “Another Day”, “Without You”, and “Seasons of Love”. Rapp shared with the audience how his mother was diagnosed with cancer while he was in the show and was very ill. He would spend his only day off, Mondays, flying home to visit her while she underwent treatment. She died a year after Rent opened. Rapp spent six years writing his memoir about his mother and called Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent and later turned it into a one-man show. Before she passed, his mother asked him to sing at her funeral. He chose the song “Without You” from Rent to sing in her honor.
Rapp sang three original songs, including “Visits to You” about these trips to see his mother. The poignant lyrics ask: “Is this another time? Or is this the last time? How much more time? When will time take away my visits to you?” His song “Now I Know” was the first song he ever wrote. “I wrote it 20 years ago when I was in a very different relationship than I am in today,” he said. “But more than anything, it is a song about love. I no longer think about the person I loved at that time, but about the feeling of love. It is still relevant today to how I feel about love.” Rapp is engaged to long-time partner Ken Ithiphol. “Our wedding was postponed due to COVID,” he shared. “We are still trying to figure out when to hold it.”
When Rapp was seven-years-old, he played the role of Snoopy, so when he had the chance to play Charlie Brown on Broadway in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, he jumped at the chance. He sang “Happiness” from the show. Doing this show after Rent and the loss of his mother “closed one chapter and opened another” he said. He dedicated the song to his mother. The show brought his childhood and his career full-circle and enabled him to move on and bring more joy into his life.
Other songs from Broadway that Rapp chose to share with us that night was “Falling Slowly from Once, “Wait for It” from Hamilton, “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen, and “Origin of Love” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Rapp’s makeup artist from Hedwig was in the audience that night. “She had to stare at my face for two hours every night,” Rapp joked.
His set was rounded out with some of his favorite songs. He did a wonderful rendition of “Creep” by Radiohead, “a song that they no longer sing in concert” according to Rapp. Jonathan Larson was also a fan of the song. “True Colors”, made famous by Cindy Lauper was chosen because it was an inspiration to him. “I used to listen to that song on cassette tape shortly after I came out. Cindy Lauper has been a great ally to the LGBTQ community.” In recognition of everyone who has been through this “incredibly challenging time”, he sang another R.E.M. favorite: “Everybody Hurts”.
Rapp was joined on stage by Music Director Daniel Wise who played the piano and the guitar, and occasional sang backup while also tickling the ivories. Wise was one of the original band members in Rent. “I enjoyed being on the stage with the band, instead of the usual pit that usually houses the orchestra. It was great to be part of the show. You are so much more engaged in the music when you are right there and you are surrounded by everyone singing.”
Peter Sachon rounded out the show playing the cello and the mandocello. He has played in the orchestras of a wide variety of Broadway show, and frequently accompanies Broadway stars in solo performances. Rapp pointed out the mandocello, an instrument not frequently seen. His new music initiative, The Cello Project, comprises more than thirty new works for the cello written for him by an impressive list of Broadway composers.
After the show, Rapp happily met with his fans up by the bar. “I’m great at taking selfies,” he said and happily posed with anyone who asked. He signed memorabilia and CDs, chatted, and answered questions. Rapp is the co-founder of BroadwayCon, along with Melissa Anelli. The event draws Broadway fans from all over the world to spend three days in NYC celebrating everything Broadway. Keep an ear out for the 2022 BroadwayCon, usually held in January.
Photos by Melissa Griegel