What's On pic

Curtain Call

Roger Foss on Anthony Rapp

From What's On in London, May 6, 1998

For Anthony Rapp, starring in Rent means more than another entry on the CV. Even before joining the original New York Theatre Workshop production in 1994, the 24-year-old American was already a seasoned trouper. Starting with child stardom at the age of six, he appeared in movies, TV films and Broadway plays; his credits include both the stage and film versions of Six Degrees of Separation.

But with Rent, Rapp feels that he has "crossed a threshold. It's great to do exciting things as an actor, but it was a dream of mine that my work could perhaps make a difference. To be involved with something which expresses so much of what I want to express is incredibly gratifying. That alone is a looking glass experience."

Jonathan Larson, Rent's creator, died suddenly from an aortic aneurysm at the age of 35 on January 25, 1996 - the day of the final dress rehearsal. From this moment on, his La Boeheme-inspired rock opera about the seasons of love and death experienced by a group of bohemian New Yorkers living under the shadow of AIDS seemed destined for legendary status.

"I still don't know how to express the experience of losing Jonathan," says Rapp. "Having all this success without him is extraordinary. I've also had to come to terms with the fact that my mom passed away a year ago - once in a lifetime events which have come together through Rent."

In true showbiz tradition, the show went on to become a cult hit. Critics went wild about the evocation of downtown starving artists, drug addicts, transvestites, lesbians and the homeless. Audiences were blown away by the songs and the emotion surrounding drug addict Mimi and her lover taking their AZT mid-duet.

The show's sell-out transfer even rejuvenated a sluggish Great White Way. A pile of awards was topped by a Pulitzer Prize as Rent became America's must-see musical, with President and Hilary Clinton heading the queue of VIPs fighting for a seat.

Rapp, one of the four original Broadway cast members now appearing in the London production now previewing at the Shaftesbury, plays Mark, the bespectacled narrator and wannabe filmmaker hiding behind the camera he uses to zoom in on his doomed friends. After all the hype, he still seems incredulous about Rent's rise to cult status. "I had my hopes that it was going to catch fire. But Broadway? A Pulitzer? We were the downtowners doing a show for $300 a week. But I always thought there was something extraordinary at the heart of Rent. Our fear was the critics wouldn't open themselves up. Luckily, they got it."

But will New York's hottest ticket sizzle in the UK? Judging fromt he previews, Rapp says that Londoners are goig with it "150 per cent." but then Rent has always had an impact larger than the sum of its parts. "We get letters from people who have been deeply affected - some who have contemplated suicide and then seen the show and decided against. That's not hype, it's what people tell us."

So how much of Anthony's real-life personality can be found in his on-stage character? "Mark is myself two years ago," he confides. "Before Jonathan and my mom passed away, Mark and I shared an inability to deal with death, so it's interesting to look at this role now and the progress I have made. We also both have a tendency to sit back and observe, to try to filter and interpret experience. I suppose I still have that role in the production as one of the ringleaders. It's nice..."

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