Two decades later, ‘Rent’ stars going strong with new show

It’s been 20 years since Jonathan Larson’s rock opera made Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal household names among fans of “Rent,” which tells the story of a group of down-and-out New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet in the height of the AIDS epidemic.

And yet, more than two decades after Rapp and Pascal rose to fame, originating the roles of Mark and Roger in the show, audiences are still hungry for the raw sound of two old friends who make it all look so effortless.

Much of the charm of The Cabaret at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis lies in its intimate setting, the tantalizing proximity of these stars of Broadway to the crowd, and Rapp and Pascal’s recent performance did not disappoint.

The edge to Pascal’s voice — the same grit that made him so believable as Larson’s wannabe-rocker Roger in “Rent” — gives angst-filled Broadway favorites a special twist, taking an approach so unique each time, you’d forget the tune wasn’t an original were it not for the words.

His renditions of Sweeney Todd’s “Johanna,” and Cabaret’s “Maybe This Time” back to back on the set list showcase that range.

In short, everything Pascal sings belongs to him — unapologetically and unmistakably. He does not sing others’ songs. He takes them and makes them all his own, first note to last, best-evidenced by his convincingly fresh “Memory” on electric guitar that, somehow, was mesmerizing despite being one of the most yawn-worthy over-done numbers in perhaps all of Broadway musical theater history.

Pascal’s path to Broadway was an unorthodox one, he told the audience. He played in garage bands as a kid growing up in New York City and never paid musical theater any mind. Those rock ‘n’ roll roots serve him well, even if they do tend to bring a predictable sound to many of his performances.

Pascal and Rapp, while they performed several solos each, hit their peak when voiced in tandem, due in no small part to their compatible sounds.

Their similarities have been something of a joke between them throughout their parallel careers, Pascal said, with fans and producers alike inadvertently mistaking the actors for one another.

At the least, that left them laughingly signing each others’ names to fans’ programs after a performance; at the most, it resulted in Pascal accepting a voice-over gig only to learn years later the producer had intended to hire Rapp but couldn’t bring herself to correct the mistake after the wrong “Rent” star stepped into the recording booth.

Perhaps what makes Rapp and Pascal so successful as a cabaret duo is the fluent give and take of their voices, with Rapp and forward and intentional with his lyrics as Pascal is settled and relaxed in the notes.

While each has gone on to see success after “Rent” (Pascal went on to land roles in “Aida” and “Cabaret”; Rapp just finished performing “If/then” on Broadway alongside former “Rent” costar Idina Menzel), they rightfully acknowledge the show that charted the trajectory of their careers.

Rapp treated the audience to a number of “Rent” favorites, including a soulfully quiet rendition of “Without You,” a ballad he also sang at his mother’s funeral after she lost a long-fought battle with cancer. Pascal crooned “One Song Glory” with the same desperate vulnerability captured on the original cast recording.

The pair’s set list at The Cabaret struck the perfect balance between reminding audience members that both performers are bigger than the roles that thrust them to stardom while paying homage to those “Seasons of love” their fans so fondly remember.

If you go

Coming up this month at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club, 121 Monument Circle, Indianapolis:

Sept. 23 and 24 — Alan Harris: This award-winning jazz singer and guitarist has cultivated a global following, playing for packed audiences around the world, from Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York to the 2012 London Olympics. His awards include the New York Nightlife Award for Outstanding Jazz Vocalist – an honor he won three times – the Backstage Bistro Award for Ongoing Achievement in Jazz and the Harlem Speaks “Jazz Museum of Harlem Award.”

Sept. 30 — Aaron Lazar: Appearing for a one-night engagement of Broadway showtunes is Aaron Lazar, who has starred in Broadway’s The Last Ship opposite 16-time Grammy Award-winner Sting; the first Broadway revival of Les Misérables; Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music; The Light in the Piazza; the world premiere of A Tale of Two Cities; and the revivals of Oklahoma! and Mamma Mia!

For tickets and showtimes, visit thecabaret.org.

Noelle Steele is the editor of the Daily Reporter. She can be reac

hed at nsteele@

greenfieldreporter.com.