Written and performed by Anthony Rapp. Directed by Steve Maler. Panasonic Theatre, to Jan. 6.
’Tis the season for tearjerkers: If A Christmas Carol has you dabbing your eyes, then Anthony Rapp’s Without You could leave you a total wreck. In his intimate backstage memoir, Rapp, one of the original cast members of Rent, relives his experiences grappling with a pair of tragic deaths while starring in that landmark ‘90s rock musical. If that’s not enough, he also sings Rent’s great heart-wrenching anthems of the age of AIDS. Yet when the mist clears, you find the actor hasn’t done much beyond sharing his personal grief.
Rapp’s touring one-man (plus rock band) show—part of the Off-Mirvish second-stage series—is based on his 2006 book of the same name. He’s at his most effective early on, when he recounts the mounting excitement during the development of Rent, and the shocking sudden death of its brilliant young composer, Jonathan Larson, just before the show’s first Off-Broadway preview. But when Rapp re-creates his emotional journey during his beloved mother’s subsequent struggle with terminal cancer, he’s less successful. For one thing, he makes the mistake of expressing himself via his own songs, which pale next to Larson’s. He also begs comparisons with that other memoir-turned-solo show about love and loss, Joan Didion’s eloquent The Year of Magical Thinking, and inevitably falls short.
There’s no question Rapp’s dual memorial to his mother and to Larson is heartfelt and touching. But Without You functions best as a tribute to the continuing power of Rent. Fans will leave the theatre wanting to head home and dig out the original cast recording.