Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Anthony Rapp in Concert
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's recent reviews of A Christmas Story, The Musical, A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday, and Anything You Hear and Only Half of What You See


Anthony Rapp
Photo Courtesy of Anthony Rapp / Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Twenty years ago Jonathan Larson's musical Rent opened on Broadway. Not only did it change musicals forever with its perfect blend of rock music and deeply emotional storytelling but it also changed the life of actor Anthony Rapp, who starred as Mark in the original production. Twenty years later Rapp is still going strong, having appeared on Broadway in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and most recently in If/Then. While he has performed in other stage shows, in films, and on TV, it is his connection with Rent that seems to still resonate the most, as not only did it bring him a huge global fan base but it also set his life in motion. Rapp recently appeared at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in a concert to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Rent, but his eclectic presentation, which featured a combination of show tunes, rock hits, and original songs, was more a celebration of life.

The concert started with a soaring and full throttle rendition of the song that Rapp said changed his life, R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion"—it was the number he sang at his Rent audition. While the songs from Rent would come later in the evening, other rock musicals were prominently featured, including two expertly sung numbers from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a show that Rapp appeared in back in 2003, as well as a stunningly delivered version of "Left Behind" from Spring Awakening.

That song, about loss, was a perfect prelude to three songs in the second act that showed the importance of Rapp's relationship with his mother and how her struggle with and death from cancer, which Rapp dealt with during his Rent years, was what he wrote about in his book "Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent." "Happiness" from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown Rapp said bookended his mother's life, since it was one of the first shows he appeared in when he was just seven as well as the show he was in on Broadway right after she passed away. That upbeat song was offset by a heartfelt and emotional, but not overly cloying, delivery of "Without You" from Rent, which was the song he sang at his mother's memorial service. While Rapp sang several of his own songs in the concert, all of which are well composed pieces, the best of these original songs is the one he wrote specifically to pay honor to his late mother, "Visits to You."

Besides the songs dedicated in his mother, Rapp also sang three numbers that ended up in Broadway shows but had their origins elsewhere. The Oscar winning "Falling Slowly" from the film Once, which later was adapted into a Broadway musical, gave Rapp the chance to show off the warmth his voice is able to achieve. Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," from American Idiot, showed off Rapp's soaring pop rock capabilities. While the Frankie Valli hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," prominently featured in Jersey Boys, was a bit of an oddity among the heavier pop and rock show tunes in the rest of the concert, Rapp's lush, direct and romantic delivery made it a stand out.

The wide range of other songs in the two-hour concert included excellent performances of Crowded House's "Better Be Home Soon," Radio Head's "Creep," and David Bowie's "Heroes," as well as the Gershwin standard "But Not for Me." Recent Broadway shows were also included, with a lovely rendition of "You Don't Need to Love Me" which Rapp sang in If/Then and a beautifully sung version of "Wait for It" from a show Rapp jokingly said he wasn't quite sure if anyone in the audience had heard of, called Hamilton.

Rapp's voice has a deep clarity that evokes an effortless simplicity as he easily works his way around some of the trickier lyrics in his song selections. He was backed by a superb quartet of musicians fronted by pianist Daniel Weiss who Rapp worked with when Weiss was a member of the Rent Broadway band. Besides "Without You," Rent selections also included a beautiful version of "Seasons of Love" that Rapp sang as an encore and an exceptionally solid and direct performance of "Another Day." The lyrics in that song, which include "There's only now, there's only here, No day but today," perfectly state the importance of living for the moment, which is something that Rapp's concert was a testament to.

Anthony Rapp performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday November 19th 2016. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.


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