While Anthony Rapp (Rent’s original Mark Cohen) has been off starring in numerous projects, his autobiographical one-man show Without You has never left his mind. Between filming seasons of his current project, CBS’ Star Trek: Discovery, the perfect opportunity hit—Rapp’s friend and artistic director Chris Henry wanted to bring Without You to New York City’s Royal Family Productions theatre company.
Adapted from his 2006 autobiography Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent, Rapp’s show explores his personal experience with grief through a series of songs and stories. It runs for four performances only April 19-21 at the Royal Family Performing Arts Space in midtown Manhattan. The musical memoir includes songs from Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking rock drama, including “Seasons of Love,” “Another Day,” and the anti-capitalism anthem “What You Own,” along with original songs and a cover of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” (his audition song for Rent), as the performer takes audiences through that audition, rehearsals, Larson’s tragic death, and then his own mother’s death from cancer.
Originating the role of Mark Cohen in Rent, performing in his solo show, and playing Lieutenant Commander Paul Stamet in Star Trek: Discovery (a role which he’s played since 2017), have all been life-defining for Rapp. “Being part of the Star Trek universe is changing my life. It's the first time I'm getting to play a role that evolves over time in a TV series. I get to grow and change with him,” he says.
“It’s different than playing Mark over the years. I played him several times over the years, in different iterations. Each time I feel a different kind of connection to him,” Rapp continued, referring to revisiting the character in the Chris Columbus-directed movie adaptation, on Broadway, and in the 2009 national tour. “But nothing has quite touched the fundamental, life-altering fusion of heart, mind, body, and spirit that occurred through the experience of creating Rent.”
With that being said, he recognizes the shared interest between the two, describing it as a venn diagram. “Both Rent and Star Trek try to highlight our better natures and what's possible if we lean into uplifting each other, creating a sense of community, being our best selves, and honoring and loving each other.” It is this love for Rent, its creator, and the human experience that is chronicled in Without You.
Rapp enjoys hosting the post-performance meet-and-greets as it gives space for the audience to share their stories and experiences with him. He once even met a young audience member whose mother had died the day before the performance. “It was like a mirror of myself as a young man who had just lost my mother. That's why I originally wrote the book. There was little literature at the time that was talking about being young and losing a parent. To have it reflected back at me and to hear that the show was meaningful and helpful to him was really special.”
As he prepares the return of Without You while coming out of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, Rapp suspects that the themes of the show may be more relatable to audiences. He acknowledges that while not everybody has experienced a direct loss during these times, there has been more collective awareness about it. “In Western culture, it's a subject that that people are still intimidated by. There's fear associated with it,” he says.
"One of the central views that the show works with is this piece of advice I was given, which is that the only way out is through,” says Rapp. “It is proof that you can make it out the other side of these experiences.” But it doesn’t gloss over the challenging nature of grief. "It's like holding up a mirror to the experience of what it means to be alive. In everyone's case, at some point or other, you're going to lose someone very close to you. It's not just a piece of sorrow. It's also a piece of joy and love, and connection. I hope that people feel connected to the people who are most important to them in their lives.”
For tickets, visit RoyalFamilyProductions.org.