All Things Entertaining and Cultural
Known most for originating the role of the serious Mark Cohen in “Rent,” Rapp has spent a lifetime touring in shows, mostly musicals, and introducing roles on Broadway.
“It’s all come fairly easily,” says Rapp by telephone from Nashville where he is touring in “If/Then,” playing a part he created opposite “Rent” co-star Idina Menzel, on Broadway. “If/Then” arrives at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music for a weeklong run from Tuesday, June 21 to Sunday, June 26.
“I began performing at a community theater in Chicago when I was age 9 and caught the attention of the director there. I think he saw my desire to do well and how much I wanted my characters to be real. Also, I’ve never had a problem memorizing lines or performing for eight shows a week. They are things I’ve always done.”
In “If/Then,” Rapp plays both a best friend and a romantic lead of sorts. That’s because the musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”) has two plot tracks, each chronicling the result of a recently divorced woman, Elizabeth, choosing one path or another in her post-marital life. In one scenario, she is attracted to Josh, and Rapp’s character, Lucas, is a college chum who listens as Elizabeth, called Liz, describes the way her new marriage is going, even as he embarks on a gay relationship. In another, Elizabeth, called Beth, comes to see Lucas for friendship following her divorce, and they become spontaneously intimate . Lucas, in that scenario, complicates the life of Beth as she soars in her career and firmly elects to remain single.
“It’s a real examination of what happens if we choose one road instead of another,” Rapp says. “We all think about sometimes, what would happen if we elected to do ‘x’ instead of ‘y.’ Elizabeth just wants to restart her life, but she is confronted by unexpected choice. ‘She has never experienced that before. If/Then” shows you how each of her options turns out.”
In more than three decades, Rapp has played a variety of roles. He followed his success in “Rent” by starring as the title character in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.,” has done straight plays as well as musicals, and even adapted his book, “Without You,” about his experiences in “Rent” and the loss of important people in his life, for the stage as a one-person show.
As his career progresses, Rapp says he is drawn to the dark and the classical.
“I think the dark side the human psyche has to be exposed,” he says. “One thing theater does really well is depict the duality and more intense side of people. My examples come from movies, Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs” and Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List.” These characters take on more texture because of how easily they blend in, how ordinary they look, how they couch their evil in a kind of culture and charm, and how little remorse they have for heinous acts.
“Theater has an obligation to shine a light on these characters and show the darkness behind their subtlety.
“Acting is not just another job. It’s a way to show the authenticity of characters and situation in a way that keeps people’s attention. It shows the contrasts within individuals and within life.
“’If/Then’ addresses that duality in a different way, through humor and the chance to see the outcome of both possibilities at once.
atter what kind of character you’re playing, the job is to find that person’s humanity and express it honestly. It’s not to comment on the person or hide his flaws. It’s not to condone behavior you find reprehensible. It’s not to apologize. It’s to show the aspect of humanity the character represents and paint a fully realized portrayal. They are things I’ve tried to do from the beginning of my career. They may be reason I’ve had a career.”
Rapp says he is also drawn to Shakespeare. He played Henry V earlier this century, and he says he’d like to do more of the Bard.
“Shakespeare was someone who could shed light on dark characters. More than that, he sheds light on humanity in general,” Rapp says.
Acting has been Rapp’s life, but he is also an avid baseball fan. His team is the Chicago Cubs, and he has hopes that the 71 years since the Cubs’ last World Series appearance might end this year. Like a true Cubs fan, he also exercises caution and takes a “wait-and-see” attitude. Rapp is also an avid poker player and often organizes games and tournaments about the “If/Then” cast and other companies of which he’s a member.
“If/Then” runs from Tuesday through Sunday, June 26, at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets, in Philadelphia. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $110 to $20 and can be obtained by calling 215-893-1999 or by visiting www.kimmelcenter.org