OK, so this week isn’t strictly about writing, but is about something that is probably my second favourite thing in the world – musical theatre. Sorry if it gets overly long!
On Friday, 31st of August, I went to London to see Anthony Rapp in his one man show, entitled Without You. Now, before we moved on, let’s have a little history lesson. It’s 2007 and I have been dumped by my boyfriend. I didn’t take it particularly well, so one night my sister (who will be the other person every time I use the word we from now on!) suggested we watch a film. If you know me, you’ll know I REALLY don’t do films. I have this strange diversion to films, only really watching them if I think I’ll like them, but I trust my sister’s judgement.
The film we watched was RENT. I had seen nothing like it – this was a musical, but it was modern, edgy, rude, and most of all, there was rock music. Up until that point the only musical I had really fallen for in the same way was The Phantom of the Opera, which, though a brilliant show, wasn’t anything like the music I spent most of my time listening to.
At the centre of it all was the character Mark Cohen, who was the character I identified with the most. The other characters are so different to me, it isn’t hard to see why this is the case. Mark is a creator with no inspiration to create, starting projects that he’ll never finish and battling with the fear that he’ll be the one left behind. He is also immensely nerdy and quirky, and most of all, his songs were the ones I loved. Once I did a little research and found that the last time most members of the original cast had been in the show was about 1998, I got used to the fact that the likelihood of me seeing Anthony Rapp (who had become my favourite cast member) live, was pretty low.
Then, five years after we flew to New York to see the show, (Yes, we did that!) we found out that Anthony Rapp was coming to London to do his one man show. Five years down the line, I’m not as big a fan of Rapp’s as I was, but the opportunity to see him live was not something I was going to turn down. Not really knowing what to expect (beyond assuming we would hear about RENT and the death of his mother), we got our tickets and headed out to The Menier Chocolate Factory, a theatre we had only been to once before, quite some years earlier to see a great production of La Cage Aux Folles. I digress.
I didn’t feel myself growing excited until we were in our seats (Row C – three rows back), when I actually thought about what was going to happen. Anthony Rapp – a man who I had been a huge fan of for five years or so – was going to be there, in front of me, hopefully singing songs that I loved.
Having read the book that the show is based on, I got exactly what I had assumed. But then, the surprise came. What else we got was an hour and twenty minutes of emotion, laughter and excellent storytelling. Even though you could tell Rapp has told this story many, many times (the show had brief runs in New York and Edinburgh before its London run), the emotion didn’t feel forced or fake. Yes, he is an actor, but I don’t think any acting is required when telling a heartfelt story about your mother’s battle with cancer. The “story” was interspersed with songs, either songs from RENT or Rapp’s own songs, some written specifically for the show. REM’s Losing My Religion also made an appearance as Rapp’s RENT audition song.
To hear songs I had love for years being sung live was an experience like no other, even though some were just fragments of songs. (such as Halloween, a song from possibly my favourite part of RENT) I found the newer songs slightly jarring, but probably because I hadn’t heard them before. Hearing the songs in a story context only added an extra layer to them I’d never considered. I love the song Always (one of Rapp’s own), but had never considered it to be about leaving your dying mother to go back home, wishing you hadn’t.
I found Rapp compelling, though sometimes hard to watch. I thought he was so much like his character in RENT that it wasn’t hard to see why he was so good at playing that particular role. Over the hour and twenty minutes, we were taken on a rollercoaster, from Rapp getting his first big Broadway role, to the creator of RENT, the wonderful Jonathan Larson dying the day before the first real preview of the show and then down once more to the death of Rapp’s mother.
Anyone who has felt loss would have had no trouble identifying with Rapp. He told of how he couldn’t see a way out of the grief and this is something everyone can understand. It wasn’t until he spoke to a friend who worked at a support group that he was told: “The only way out is through.” Very true.
After the rollercoaster of the show, Rapp ended with an upbeat version of Seasons of Love. It was very hard not to sing along.
In the few hours after the show I felt almost in a state of disbelief. Had I really seen that? Had I really heard Rapp sing songs that at one point in my life had meant more than anything? Yes, I had. Friday, 31st August 2012, is one of the most inspiring nights I think I’ve spent in a theatre. I wanted to go home, put the RENT CD in my stereo and relive all the love I’d had for the show. I want to re-read Rapp’s book, just to remember all the parts that had been omitted and relive all the parts I had heard.
I find it really hard to grasp the fact I’ve seen people I admire in the flesh. Anthony Rapp will be another to add to the list.