It's 2 PM on a Thursday in January, a few days from the 20th anniversary of Jonathan Larson's death, and Adam Pascal is whisked into the Nederlander for a photo shoot in the theatre's back alley. The walls, once graffiti-ridden with messages and drawings from Rentheads of how Larson's show changed their life, have been painted over. All that remains are the words "No Day But Today" bordered by hearts — a spot seemingly missed in the makeover.
Still, he says — navigating the theatre for a spot to sit — it's like returning to high school…only, it looks smaller.
Twenty years ago, when Rent transferred uptown to 41st Street (once a seedy Broadway block), Pascal was 25 and performing in his first musical.
"It was the perfect space for that show at that time," he says from a seat in the mezzanine as he watches set pieces for Disaster! load in. "There was nothing else on this block. It was really gritty. It was off the beaten path. It was kind of nasty and really helped provide the right kind of atmosphere for what the show was trying to convey, which is what the world, the feeling and the existence was like on the Lower East Side at the time.
"But, for us, it was so exciting. It was home. Coming here every day felt like going home for us. It was so comfortable, and it was so natural. It just really felt like the right place. I remember when the decision was made to move to Broadway from the [New York Theatre] Workshop, everyone's biggest concern was, 'Is this show going to suffer in terms of perception by the audience? Also, in its rawness, is it going to suffer making a move to Broadway?' And it didn't. I think part of the reason that it didn't was because it found this space, and it was the perfect place for it."
Since Rent, only a handful of shows have occupied the Nederlander — Disaster!, the 70s-themed musical comedy opening March 8, its newest tenant — and Pascal returns anew.
"I needed to be humbled," he admits. Rent was the Hamilton of 1996, sending shockwaves through the American Theatre in its day, so Pascal was spoiled in his start.
"Failure makes you grow. Success doesn't make you grow," he explains. "Success only feeds that perception that you've arrived or that you don't have any more to learn or that you've achieved all that you need to achieve… Lots of blown auditions, some not-so-great reviews on shows in the New York Times — those types of things are the things that make you realize, 'Oh, okay, I have a lot to learn.' It was a good number of years of that happening to me [before] I realized I'm not this golden child that everyone thought I was when I was in Rent. I may have been at that particular moment in time, in that particular show, but to have a career now 20 years later took a lot more than just that."
Pascal describes his 20-something-year-old self as "lazy" and "entitled" because he never intended for a career in theatre. He played in rock bands until Rent came along, and then he was hooked. Disaster! marks his sixth Broadway show.
"I'm shocked that 20 years have gone by now, and I'm like, 'Wow, I'm still here, and I'm in a brand-new show. I've actually managed to maintain a career by the skin of my teeth,'" he says. "But, I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. I don't care about Tonys, and I don't care about that kind of stuff. I just want to keep working. Once you have a family — at least for me — the goal becomes to keep working."
He and wife Cybele Pascal have two sons, Lennon, 14, and Montgomery, 12. The family of four lives in Los Angeles, due in part to Rent.
The move, he says, "was under the auspices of the Rent movie coming out and an assumption — a very naïve assumption on my part, although really backed up by Sony, who produced the movie. [They said], 'This is going to be the biggest movie. It's going to be huge. It's going to be just like the show.' So I [thought], 'Maybe I should go to L.A. and try to do film because maybe I could become a movie star the same way I became a Broadway star,' and that was really naïve of me to think that way, but look, you make mistakes… That being said, we love living out there."
The difficulty lies in seeing his family, so his wife and kids take lots of trips to New York City and FaceTime. Although the boys see his shows, Pascal says that theatre is "not their thing."
"Quite frankly," he says, "I would dissuade them from entering into the entertainment business in any way, shape or form because it's a really tough, painful, soul-crushing business. It looks all glamorous now because I'm sitting in the theatre about to open in a new Broadway musical, but that's the rarity. The more common place you'd see me is sitting in my house going, 'What the f*ck am I gonna do next? How can I make money? How am I gonna pay the…'"
Rent? Yet again, the Nederlander's got him covered.