The first scene in “Rent” said that … 525,600 minutes can measure a year; seasons of love can measure a life. But what can measure the chance to meet the original Mark Cohen of “Rent”?
Tomorrow, Anthony Rapp, who played Mark Cohen, the narrator and disillusioned Bohemian in the original Broadway production and film version of “Rent” will give an answer.
In an interview with The Flat Hat Rapp characterized his time with “Rent” as a positive experience driven by making theatre more relevant to young people.
A story about struggling New Yorkers and their love lives, “Rent” addresses the often-silenced hardships of AIDS, poverty, drug addiction and sexuality. Its controversial topics and rock-opera musical numbers have made it one of the most successful plays of the last two decades.
Rapp’s book, “Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical ‘Rent,’” portrays his experience with the hit production. He writes about the show’s beginning, dealing with the death of “Rent’s” creator, Jonathan Larson, and the loss of his mother to cancer. Rapp said “Rent’s” unique quality was a result of Larson’s passion. “[He] was very driven by the notion of making theater relevant to young people again. It happened with ‘Rent,’ and it’s been a great privilege of my life to be a part of it.”
Since his book’s release in 2006, Rapp has traveled to schools to talk about his memories of with Larson and the initial history of “Rent.”
“It’s very conversational and not presentational,” Rapp said. “People tend to have strong personal relationship[s] to [‘Rent’], and questions range.
“It’s the greatest gift to be part of a show that tells a story that’s important to tell, and that’s about characters and themes that aren’t often told, with incredible music,” Rapp said. “It’s so much more than entertainment. It has real profound meaning for people.”
Although Rapp says he’s not being any sort of motivational speaker, the inspirational nature of “Rent” gives a motivational tinge to Rapp’s presentation.
“I’ve been working since I’ve been a kid as a professional, and [I] believe in the power of young people,” Rapp said. “I like to dispute that real life doesn’t begin until you’re older. So it provides inspiration but it’s so tied into all of the things of ‘Rent.’ I’m not a motivational speaker; it’s just the nature of the speech.”
Rapp receives frequent invitations to speak at colleges across the country. “I feel a sort of responsibility to Jonathan and ‘Rent’ to carry on the legacy of it. It’s just an honor and a privilege.”
After “Rent” closedon Broadway, Rapp performed in an off-Broadway play, and most recently worked for the Obama campaign. “I met Obama through my sister who worked with congressmen,” Rapp said. “I was very impressed by [Obama’s] 2004 speech at convention.”
Rapp has volunteered in Texas and Philadelphia, and spent this past week in Ohio, “mostly knocking on doors and making phone calls, making sure people have the information to get to polls, arranging rides if they need them.”
Next January, Rapp will resume his role as Mark Cohen in a nationwide production of “Rent.” Fellow Broadway-original Adam Pascal will also resume his role as Roger Davis.
“I’ve done a lot of other good things in the meantime that I’m proud of, but there’s nothing like ‘Rent.’” Despite constantly discussing “Rent” with various audiences, Rapp said he would, “never get tired of it. Do you ever get tired of the people you love in your life? Never will be, can’t imagine ever being tired of it.”
Rapp will speak in Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall tomorrow at 7 p.m. Admission is $4 for students and $20 for non-students.