By: Darryl Reilly
“Seasons of Love” is Anthony Rapp’s opening number in the musical solo show, Without You, which he adapted from his same-titled 2006 memoir. Other Rent classics performed include “La Vie Boheme,” “Another Day,” “Intro to Religion,” and of course, “Without You.” These are matched with accomplished original songs by Mr. Rapp, David Matos, and Joe Pisapia, during an engaging 90 minutes.
Rapp’s charming performing persona veers from lowkey to animated as he alternates his poignant autobiographical narration with soulful singing. He is backed by a dynamic five-member band led by musical director Daniel A. Weiss, with Clerida Eltime on cello, Paul Gil on bass, Jerry Marotta on drums, and Lee Moretti on guitar.
“Losing My Religion” by REM, was Rapp’s audition song for the 10-performance workshop of Rent in 1994. Rapp stirringly performs it in Without You. He was then a striving 22-year-old actor with major credits, who was working in a Starbucks. From his present rendition, we can imagine his youthful power which landed him the iconic role of the Mark, the videographer in that historic musical. Rapp took many vivid pictures during rehearsals and in that era, a selection is shown on the stage’s walls via David Bengali’s arresting projection design. Rent eventually transferred to Off-Broadway and then to Broadway, for an over 10-year-run.
Rapp’s focus in Without You is to tell the story of this landmark life event, by chronicling the twin tragedies that colored this heyday. Rapp offers incisive mini portraits of his Rent castmates, director Michael Greif and most crucially of Rent’s composer, lyricist and librettist, Jonathan Larson. Rapp beautifully brings this irrepressible genius to life, who sadly died at the of 35 in 1996 of an aortic dissection while Rent was about to preview Off-Broadway, just before it became a phenomenon.
As Rapp was getting his big break, his divorced registered nurse mother, Mary Lou’s in-remission cancer returned. He tenderly dramatizes his shuttling back and forth between New York City and Joliette, Illinois, to be with her at that time, before her death at the age of 55 in 1997, while juggling his now successful career. He offers many wrenching details of their relationship, including his honesty of being gay.
Without You has been superlatively realized for the stage. Director Steven Maler’s brisk staging brings energy and narrative focus to the production. Eric Southern’s artful brick wall scenic design is entrancing, as is his kinetic lighting design. Sound designer Brian Ronan renders the musical and spoken word sequences with flair. Costume designer Angela Vesco clothes Rapp with timeless élan.
Without You is cathartic and entertaining.
Without You (through April 30, 2023)
New World Stages, 350 West 50 Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit www.withoutyoumusical.com
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission