New York Times: Still Connected to ‘Rent,’ but Not Afraid to Branch Out

January 11th, 2011

New York Times
Published: January 11, 2011

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As Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, original cast members of “Rent,” joined voices to sing its anthem “What You Own” on Monday evening at Town Hall, the only thing that had dated about the song was its actual date. “You’re living in America at the end of the millennium,” goes this proclamation of survival in the age of AIDS. “You’re living in America, where it’s like the Twilight Zone.”

We are more than a decade past the end of that millennium. (“Rent” opened on Broadway in April 1996.) Mr. Pascal, who originated the role of Roger Davis, is now 40, and Mr. Rapp, who played Mark Cohen, 39. America feels as much like the Twilight Zone as it did 15 years ago. Mr. Pascal and Mr. Rapp may be pushing middle age, but they still exude an embattled ingenuousness.

Like it or not, Mr. Pascal and Mr. Rapp, who have each appeared in other shows since “Rent” and have embarked on solo careers, still live in the shadow of that Jonathan Larson rock opera, which made them semi-stars; in a way “Rent” fixed them in time like butterflies in a display case. “Seasons of Love” (from “Rent”), the finale of their dual concert, is a song about the impossibility of trying to quantify time as it is lived: “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes/How do you measure, measure a year?”

The evening’s selections from that show were only a small part of a program that included original songs by Mr. Pascal and Mr. Rapp, as well as other familiar material from Broadway (given theatrical rock treatment) and beyond. Mr. Pascal, who commanded the first half of the evening, accompanying himself on bass with his songwriting partner, Larry Edoff, on piano, and Gary Seligson on drums, has the voice and show-off attitude of a progressive rocker of the Freddie Mercury variety.

In the middle of his set he paid homage to an important influence, Ronnie James Dio, the heavy-metal singer who died of cancer last year. His tribute culminated in a flowery rendition of “Sunday,” the climactic number from “Sunday in the Park With George.”

Where Mr. Pascal revels in flashy vocal tangents in which his voice rises to a shriek, Mr. Rapp’s style is so mild-mannered that his five-piece band, led by the keyboardist Daniel A. Weiss, at times threatened to undermine his plain, steady singing. But he did well by Radiohead’s “Creep” and R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.”

Not to disparage either performer’s solidly made original material, but it was thoroughly eclipsed by the music from “Rent,” which sent zingers to the heart.

Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp perform on Saturday at Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington, N.Y.; (516) 767-6444,