Theatre Review: “Without You” @ NYMF 10/07/10

Without You, a new one-man show written by and starring Anthony Rapp, played to sold-out audiences at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. I was lucky enough to grab a ticket to a late-night performance on Thursday, October 7th, 2010. Rapp’s emotional reflection on love, loss and family was one of the bravest performances I have ever seen on a stage.

Without You is based on Rapp’s 2006 memoir that recalls the events of his life in relation to the musical RENT (he starred as Mark in the original workshop and Broadway cast), his relationship with Jonathan Larson (the writer of RENT) and his partner, as well as the death of Rapp’s mother by cancer. I read the book for the first time this past June when I was researching the role of Mark for my upcoming production of RENT at City Lights Theatre Company this past summer. The message of love and life deeply touched me. It sincerely touched on delicate subjects (sexuality, death, love) with such candor that it was almost impossible not to grieve with Rapp as you read along.

Almost a month ago, I wrote a personal account of my relationship with RENT over the last 10 years and how the show has affected my own life. Here’s a short excerpt:

In June 2000… I saw RENT… when I won the lottery and sat on the front row. In retrospect, I think that night was a turning point in my life. I fell in love with musical theatre, RENT, and Broadway on that day. I always knew I liked it before and I even thought it would be an awesome career path for me, but seeing RENT ultimately changed my life because I knew I had to work in musical theatre…

I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t ready for our show to close at the end of August. I wasn’t finished telling Larson’s story; it became too real for me at that point. The connection I had to the material and cast was fierce and over the last two months I’ve continually had to re-evaluate my priorities and focus to make sure I haven’t forgotten the lessons of living life in the moment that RENT so fearlessly screams. Being able to see Anthony Rapp perform Without You allowed me to “complete my RENT journey”. It was one of the most therapeutic theatrical experiences of my life.

From the moment Rapp walked on stage and begun his story about auditioning for Michael Grief and Jonathan Larson singing R.E.M.’s “Losing my Religion” (which he sings for the audience) I was mesmerized. He continued to relate his experiences about RENT, the death of Jonathan Larson and is extremely personal relationship with his mother with such guts that it was nearly impossible to not sit in the audience and not be engaged. He remarkably interweaved his stories with new arrangements of songs from RENT that were absolutely stunning and a few original pieces that I loved as well. By the end, the tears wouldn’t stop. Even now, a week later, the emotions are still raw and real.

Obviously, this piece was very personal to me but Rapp’s beautiful narrative about love and life is relatable to anyone and everyone. I truly hope Rapp has the opportunity to reach a greater audience with this piece and that it has life beyond the New York Musical Theatre Festival because it deserves it.

Without You is bold, brave and beautiful — a perfect night of theatre.

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