PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Memphis and Original Rent Star Adam Pascal

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Memphis and Original Rent Star Adam Pascal Adam Pascal sheds the grunge-rock persona of his signature role, 1990s Rent rocker Roger, for the early 1950s rock 'n' roll of DJ Huey Calhoun in Broadway's Memphis.

Adam Pascal
Adam Pascal

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It's been 15 years since Adam Pascal made his Tony-nominated Broadway debut in Rent as a struggling East Village rocker facing an uncertain future in a world shaped by the AIDS epidemic.

Since then he's originated the role of Radames in Disney's Aida, portrayed the menacing Emcee in the Broadway revival of Cabaret, immortalized his performance as Roger in the film of Rent and even found time to release three rock albums before returning to Rent for the final leg of its national tour.

On Oct. 25 Pascal took on a new era in music, succeeding Chad Kimball as DJ Huey Calhoun in the Tony-winning Broadway hit Memphis. With a score that blends rock 'n' roll, blues, R&B and gospel, Memphis again puts Pascal in the role of another leading man facing a stormy future: A white radio DJ in the segregated south of the American 1950s caught between an interracial love affair, the music that drives his life and the lure of fame.

Playbill.com caught up with Pascal just three days after joining the cast of Memphis at the Shubert Theatre. This must have been a whirlwind week for you. You started performances in Memphis on your birthday?
Adam Pascal: Yes! It was a great, great present. It was the best gift I could have asked for.

A majority of your stage work has been originating roles. Was it intimidating to bring new life to the role of Huey after Memphis has been going strong for two years?
AP: It was intimidating not because it was a hit and because it has been running for two years, but because this is just a huge role. The scope of the role and the amount that's involved is just intimidating. I had a relatively short amount of time in which to learn all of the material. My job was to show up for rehearsal as prepared as possible.

What was the rehearsal process like for you? Did you get a lot of time with the creative team?
AP: I had three weeks of rehearsal. [Memphis director] Christopher Ashley, luckily, was around. And when I say three weeks, it's really three days each week, because you don't rehearse on matinee days and you don't rehearse on Mondays and you don't rehearse on Sundays. So, really I only had rehearsals on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays!

Pascal takes an opening night bow
photo by Monica Simoes

This role requires a lot of an actor. What are the biggest challenges for you?
AP: The character is literally on stage the entire show and when I'm off stage, I'm just quickly changing costume. So the backstage traffic is as much to remember as the lines, the lyrics and the music. It's the kind of thing you can only learn once you start doing it. I've only had three shows so far and I'm finally getting the hang of the costume changes, which are pretty hairy.

When did you first see Memphis? Was this a role you sought?
AP: Believe it or not, I had actually not seen the show until I already had the job. I knew it was a part that I wanted to do. In summer 2010 I approached the Memphis people and said I was interested if the role ever became available and they said, "OK, well that's interesting, but Chad [Kimball] just signed for another year." So it kind of went away for a year and Chad decided he was going to leave the production, so they came back to me. It ended up working out.

What were your impressions when you finally saw it?
AP: I was totally scared, but so impressed and happy that the show was so wonderful. It's fantastic. It's a phenomenal show and I'm so proud to be a part of it.

Did you do a lot of research on the era and the music of Beale Street?
AP: I'm not a big research guy at all. It's kind of self-explanatory in the script as far as who the character is and what his motivations are. In terms of the accent, I've been good with certain accents, so that wasn't an issue for me.

You're also a singer-songwriter outside of your work on Broadway. Your musical passions must run deep. Do you identify with Huey in that way?
AP: Yes. The whole concept of hearing music and feeling it in your soul is something that I can completely relate to. So, I totally know the feeling of what it's like to be so moved and consumed by music.

What's it like singing a score by Bon Jovi's David Bryan? Were you a fan of the band growing up?
AP: I was a huge Bon Jovi fan! The opportunity to work with David Bryan is a huge thrill for me. I am such a big big fan.

Montego Glover and Adam Pascal
photo by Monica Simoes

Your co-star Montego Glover has been with Memphis since its early stages and nabbed a Tony nomination for her work as Felicia. What's the dynamic like joining her this far along in the process?
AP: Obviously, for me, it's brand new. I think and I hope that Montego is excited that she has someone new to work opposite. I mean, after two years into a run, having been in long runs, it's exciting to have someone come into a leading role, because it shakes everybody up a little bit and forces everyone to reinterpret certain things.

A few blocks away, your first major break, Rent, has resurfaced Off-Broadway. You and your fellow original cast members are now synonymous with those roles and Rent itself.
AP: I know! I think it's wonderful and I think it's great. I hope it's successful and I hope it runs. I'm so honored that it was part of my history and to be identified with it. There are a lot of things one can be identified with, you know? The fact that I'm identified with something that is so meaningful, so wonderful and so moving to people is a huge honor.

You also live a full life as a musician, recently with collaborator Larry Edoff. There's talk that the two of you are working on a Broadway album of songs you perform as part of your Me & Larry concerts.
AP: We are, definitely. Hopefully during the time that I'm here in the city doing Memphis we can at least get started on the album. But we're definitely doing a record of the Broadway stuff, we're really excited by it and people really like the versions of the songs that we do.

Any chance Memphis might find its way to that album?
AP: I don't think I would ever do it. I like to take the traditional Broadway stuff and reinterpret it, so I'm not interested in sort of taking the pop/rock, R&B stuff and reinterpreting it.

In 2009 you announced plans to adapt the Queensrÿche album "Operation: Mindcrime" as a stage musical in which you'll star. Is that still in development?
AP: Very much so. In fact, Christopher Jahnke, who is the music supervisor on Memphis, is my musical director. We did some great work on it last year, we're really excited by it. He's been busy with Porgy and Bess, but now that I'm back in town, it's something I totally plan on getting back to once my life settles down a bit, which will hopefully be in a week or two.

Adam Pascal and company
Adam Pascal and company Photo by Monica Simoes
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