PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Adam Pascal

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Adam Pascal Adam Pascal has gone from Rent to riches. His struggles with Lower East Side life in the musical sensation of the 1990s behind him, the performer faces new challenges as the blue-blooded Radames in Aida, a tuner with a royal pedigree: music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and direction by Robert Falls. Pascal, all of 25 when his role as Roger in Rent propelled the Long Island-raised Iron Maiden fan toward theatre stardom, spoke with Playbill On-Line from his dressing room at the Palace Theatre, as he prepared to rock like an Egyptian two nights before opening.

Adam Pascal has gone from Rent to riches. His struggles with Lower East Side life in the musical sensation of the 1990s behind him, the performer faces new challenges as the blue-blooded Radames in Aida, a tuner with a royal pedigree: music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and direction by Robert Falls. Pascal, all of 25 when his role as Roger in Rent propelled the Long Island-raised Iron Maiden fan toward theatre stardom, spoke with Playbill On-Line from his dressing room at the Palace Theatre, as he prepared to rock like an Egyptian two nights before opening.

Playbill On-Line: You were a rock-and-roller with no theatrical profile when you were cast in Rent, now an anchor of a big new show. Can you compare the two experiences?
Adam Pascal: Emotionally, it's very exhausting. Physically, this show is a lot easier than Rent -- it's a book musical, with a lot of dialogue scenes, so I'm singing less. But I do keep in shape, by going to the gym five days a week, and drinking tons of water. I also have to watch my diet, and stay away from fried foods and dairy products, things I absolutely love, and eat all the time when I'm not working. [Laughs] Believe it or not, I have very sensitive vocal cords, and certain foods coat them and really get in the way of my singing. Plus, in Rent, I sang everything at the top of my range from the first workshop, and I got stuck with that kind of vocalizing for two and a half hours for every performance that followed. [Laughs.] The songs I perform in Aida are at a much easier range for me.

PBOL: What drew you to the show?
AP: After doing Rent in New York and London, Aida seemed like the perfect next step for me in musical theatre. I'm not interested in "traditional" musicals or revivals; I want to create roles, not do ones that have already been done. And I've been a tremendous fan of Elton John's my whole life.

PBOL: Do you have a favorite song of his?
AP: "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." I'm performing at it the "Broadway Does Elton" benefit next month.

PBOL: Aida is the kind of big musical that raises considerable expectations. What's your expectation for the show?
AP: Luckily, we tried out of town in Chicago, so we were able to fix what wasn't working before coming here. I'd be lying if I said I didn't listen to all that's been said about the show, and I know Ben Brantley from The Times is coming tonight, and, yes, I have butterflies in my stomach thinking about it. [Laughs.] But I'm proud of all the work that we've done, and I think the show is really good. Of course you want critical acclaim, but ultimately, you can only go by what the audience reactions are, and they've been terrific. The best part of a show is getting through the reviews and all the backstage stuff before opening night and just running with it. PBOL: You're running in the company of Heather Headley [as Aida, whom Radames falls in star-crossed love with] and Sherie Rene Scott [a Rent co-star, here playing Amneris, the princess Radames leaves behind]. How do you work together?
AP: I adore both of them. We're a team. I love how in theatre, you form families with your colleagues. You expose yourselves together every night onstage.

PBOL: Speaking of exposing yourself, you show some skin up there, in your bare-chested scenes. Your two co-stars keep it on, but not you.
AP: [Laughs] I wish I didn't have to take my shirt off, because I wouldn't have to go to the gym so much. It could be worse: in the original script, I had to take off all my clothes, but I said, "Wait a minute, come on here, now." [Laughs.] If this was my first show, and no one knew that I could sing or act but just focused on me taking my shirt off, I'd be bummed. But people know what I can do, and if my fans enjoy it, I'm flattered.

PBOL: Those fans should know you have a solo album coming out in the next two months.
AP: It's called "Model Prisoner," and it will be available on an Internet label, Sh-K-BOOM Records. The website is www.adampascal.net. The Internet has opened up so much new potential for entertainment, and it's a good way to get people interested in your music without a lot of hype; you can sample it first, then decide if you want to buy it or not.

PBOL: What's the sound of the album?
AP: It's 12 original songs I've written, and very classical rock. Heavy metal and hard rock were big influences on me, but this record is much more acoustic-based.

PBOL: Besides Aida and the upcoming album, you're a co-producer of the off-Broadway hit Fully Committed (starring Rent understudy Mark Setlock). And you're still just 29. But you almost didn't make back to Broadway -- literally. Explain what happened to you and Heather Headley in Chicago.
AP: We're placed in a tomb at the end of the show. In Chicago, the tomb was on a scissor lift, and rose 15 feet into the air. During our second preview last November, we were in there, performing our number, and something snapped -- it came crashing down, we popped out of it, and the audience had the **** scared out of them [Laughs]. We were taken to the hospital, but fortunately we pretty much walked away from it. Now, while we're in it, they're moving the museum set in behind us, which shakes the tomb, and reminds us both of what it felt like when it used to move -- and we're squeezing each other's hands, the sense memory of that accident is still so strong. It does help the emotion of the scene, though. [Laughs.]