Rapping with Anthony Rapp

Evan Henerson

“I like things that are rigorous and challenging and interesting,” says Anthony Rapp, “things that live and breathe.”

The actor, currently appearing in the national tour of “If/Then,” isn’t talking about performance or activism or the projects he chooses (although the sentiment would certainly apply).  In fact the subject is poker. It’s one of Rapp’s favorite activities, particularly when he is in Los Angeles.

This particular stay isn’t leaving much opportunity for gaming what with Rapp and the “If/Then” company performing eight shows per week. Rapp, Idina Menzel, LaChanze and James Snyder are all reprising their Broadway roles for the first part of the tour.

In “If/Then,” Rapp plays Lucas, an activist and friend of city planner Elizabeth (played by Menzel). A choice made by Elizabeth at the beginning of the show has significant reverberations. The show plays out two parallel scenarios with Liz following one path and Beth another. Lucas plays a significant part in both outcomes, but his fate varies in each.

(l to r) Jesse L. Martin, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Rosario Dawson, Idina Menzel and Tracie Thoms star in Revolution StudiosÕ rock opera Rent, a Columbia Pictures release.

(l to r) Jesse L. Martin, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Rosario Dawson, Idina Menzel and Tracie Thoms star in Revolution StudiosÕ rock opera Rent, a Columbia Pictures release.

The musical reunites Rapp both with Menzel who  – like Rapp – was one of the original company members of “Rent” and with their “Rent” director Michael Greif.  A performer from the age of 9 with multiple Broadway, film and TV credits, Rapp is one of the co-organizers of the inaugural BrowdwayCon convention coming in January.  Rapp recently spoke to HP2703 on a Wednesday before the first of his two performances.

HOLLYWOOD PANTAGES 2703: I just caught the show last night. Coming off the weekend, how do you think that performance went?

ANTHONY RAPP: I thought it was pretty good. I had to go to Pittsburgh on my day off to do a benefit for a theater where I’ve worked a bunch of times over the years, so I was a little bit tired, but I rallied. There’s something about adrenaline and a live audience that really helps. The audience last night was really with it and responsive. It’s not just that they’re laughing and clapping, but you can just feel when they’re present and connected. Last night’s audience was very much that way.

HP: You sign autographs after every performance, right?

AR: Yeah.

HP: After performances of “If/Then,” what sorts of things about the show do people say they are responding to?

AR: They don’t usually say a lot. They usually ask me for a picture and an autograph (laughs). They say nice general things. I noticed when we were in New York, there were a lot of people from all over the world who were coming to New York and seeing it, especially from Latin America, and they were the ones who were a little more vocal and specific about being moved by the show and feeling very connected to it. It seems like the people on the road have also felt similarly, but I don’t know if they are shyer about engaging in a lengthy conversation. I don’t know if people don’t do stage door much on the road.

HP: You have never been shy about connecting with fans. Do you have some memorable stage door moments, either when you were performing or as a fan yourself?

AR:  “Stagedooring” has become a one word verb. When “Rent” first started, it wasn’t that. It wasn’t until a little later into the run that the stagedooring craze happened. I think even not even until really the end of my run where I would come out of the front of the theater where, because there wasn’t a proper stage door at the Nederlander Theatre, you sort of had to walk through the lobby. There would be maybe 5 to 10 people waiting just to talk to us get a picture or an autograph. So we could actually interact with them and have a real conversation. That wasn’t just like an assembly line experience. That was how I met Melissa Anelli who is one of my closest friends and who I’m doing BroadwayCon with. That kind of meeting would be much harder to have now. I don’t mind the stage door the way it’s become, but it’s not the same as it was in terms of having the chance to really talk to individual human beings in a more intimate way.

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Anthony Rapp as Mark Cohen in Rent

HP: Let’s talk about BroadwayCon which is fast approaching (January 22-24) It’s coming up fast. How is everything coming together?

AR: It’s just getting a real head of steam. I was talking to Melissa and she said she just was in three successive video conference calls that were all about big things that are continuing to coalesce around it. We’re at this stage where there are so many people who want to participate from within the community, and now we might not have room for everybody. It’s like a good problem to have. There’s a high demand and a high level of interest because there has never been anything like this before.

HP: What specifically will you be doing at the convention?

AR: I’ll be performing a little bit. There’s at least a big opening performance number which I don’t even know the ins and outs of because I haven’t been privy to it, but I’m going to be part of it. There will be all sorts of panels. I’m going to do a master class. There’s signings, I think I’m slated right now for at least four or five panels. I’m at their mercy. At this point, it’s a game of Jenga of putting together all the different pieces and then making sure that all the slots match up. There’s so many moving parts. So I’m helping put it together, but I’m not in on all of the nitty gritty of all of it.

HP: And the impetus for the convention is to bring artists and audiences closer together, correct?

AR: Absolutely. There are people who come to the theater because there’s nothing like being in a  room with a bunch of other living breathing human beings and experience that living breathing human beings are on stage performing for you. There’s not always the opportunity for the audiences and artists to have much more interaction than simply being observer and observed. We’re all part of one big community, and we can participate in conversations and demonstrations and events and sometimes other kinds of performances as well with the level of intimacy and interaction that isn’t always possible when you’re in a theater. And it’s all still going to be much more than a simple quick stage door drive by kind of situation.

HP: There’s a little bit of irony here. During BroadwayCon, you won’t be performing with “If/Then.”

AR: Yes, I’ll be missing a small handful of performances in Costa Mesa. BroadwayCon has been in the works for so long so when our producer David Stone told me about the “If/Then” tour, I said, “I’ll do the tour but I’ve got to do BroadwayCon.” He was like, “Of course, of course.” He has been an advisor to my colleagues who are helping to create BroadwayCon. He’s been a very important part of making it happen, too.

HP: Back to “If/Then.” What has it been like to work with Idina Menzel and Michael Greif again nearly 20 years post-“Rent”?

AR: It’s sort of like a bonus round experience. I get to work again with people I love and trust and have known for all this time on something that we all have done our very best to put our hearts and souls into. So it just feels like a bonus. That’s really the best way I can describe it. “If/Then” hasn’t been the huge smash of “Rent,” of course, by any means, but we all went through that trench together [with “Rent”]and it was this overwhelming success and now we just get to be together as friends and collaborators and fellow artists and put our best selves together and do our best work. So we’re just lucky to get the chance to do that.

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(From left) James Snyder, Idina Menzel, LaChanze and Anthony Rapp at the NYC premiere of If/Then.

HP: Regarding Idina specifically, have the two of you stayed in touch over the years? Does she have the same work process that she had back during the “Rent” days?

AR: This time with Idina especially in these last few years of all the readings and then the production of “If/Then,” it’s taken our friendship to a whole other level in a wonderful way.

The common thread is that she has always approached the work with nothing but authenticity and soul and that voice (laughs). I always think back to the early days of rehearsal for “Rent” off Broadway, she had a little gig downtown at a club that I don’t think even exists anymore. And there were maybe 10 people in the crowd plus us, maybe not even that many, and she was destroying it. She was killing it in all the best ways. Cut to 20 years later and she’s at the Hollywood Bowl and it’s sold out and she’s killing it just like she did in this tiny club all those years ago. She’s on a rocket ship. Her fame is just exploding, and I’ve certainly seen people be corrupted by that or lose themselves or be confused by it. In my experience of Idina, it’s just brought her deeper and deeper into a fuller sense of who she is, and that’s really wonderful to see. It’s always been deserved. Sometimes the world just takes a while to catch up.

HP: You were at the Pantages with the “Rent” tour in 2009 and you have some experience on the road. How does it feel to be packing a suitcase yet again?

AR: I first did a tour when I was 10 with Yul Brynner in “The King and I” for years and then “Little Shop of Horrors,” then “Rent.” We did four cities for the out of town tryout of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” so I’ve had different moments of being on the road. It’s really not a life I’d want to live all the time. There are people who are kind of like road warriors, and they only ever tour. I wouldn’t like that because I like to have a time at home too, but I do like every several years or so having the chance to go on the road because it is a great way to see the country. I do have people I know in many of these cities that we’re going to do, and it’s a great way to visit old friends. I do like the idea of taking this show, which is not as well known but I feel a very vital part of the contemporary America musical theater landscape, and sharing it with people who never had the chance to come to New York and see it.

If/Then National Theatre Cast List: Idina Menzel LaChanze Anthony Rapp James Snyder Jerry Dixon Jenn Colella Jason Tam Tamika Lawrence Joe Cassidy Miguel Cervantes Curtis Holbrook Stephanie Klemons Tyler McGee Ryann Redmond Joe Aaron Reid Ann Sanders Production Credits: Michael Greif (Direction) Larry Keigwin (Choreography) Mark Wendland (Scenic Design) Emily Rebholz (Costume Design) Kenneth Posner (Lighting Design) Brian Ronana (Sound Design) Carmel Dean (Musical Direction) Tom Kitt and Michael Starobin (Orchestrations) Other Credits: Lyrics by: Brian Yorkey Music by: Tom Kitt Book by: Brian Yorkey

LaChanze and Anthony Rapp in If/Then. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

HP: Idina, James Snyder and LaChanze are leaving the tour mid January. You’re continuing.

AR: You know I’m a pretty loyal person. I’m not saying they’re not loyal. Idina needs a break. She’s been going nonstop for like three solid years and she has a 6 year-old son. LaChanze has two teen age daughters and James has two small children so that’s really the primary reason that all of them can’t do the whole tour. I just have cats. (laughs). Having toured before, I know what I’m getting into and I’m ready for that experience and there are a couple of layoffs we have in the spring and summer. I get a couple little breaks where I can go home and check in. It’s something I really feel very strongly about, the loyalty and connection to Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey and Michael and to David Stone. If my presence in any way can help bring a little attention to the show as we go into some of these cities, then I’m happy for that.

For more information about BroadwayCon visit: http://www.broadwaycon.com/

Henerson headshot 10-5-15

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.

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