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Anthony Rapp talks ‘Without You’(new addition ## second para)

“Rent” star in Seoul for his personal musical memoir

When Anthony Rapp ended his musical memoir “Without You” at SangSang Art Hall in Daechi-dong, Seoul, on Feb. 12, many in the audience were looking for Kleenex in their purses. A few minutes later when the light was back on it wasn’t hard to find eyes smudged with tears and runny mascara.

More than 15 years have passed since the first show of “Rent,” the role which made Rapp famous, during which he lost his mother and the writer behind the famed musical.

“When you put together a memoir, it’s memory -- it’s never going to be a hundred percent accurate,” Rapp said. “But all of these feel very close to my heart. These memories are alive. They have not faded away. I don’t think I’m glowing in them, but they are part of the fabric of my life.“

And in “Without You,” the musical version of the American actor’s 2006 memoir, those memories brought many tears to the eyes of Seoulites.

In it Rapp, best known for the role of Mark Cohen in “Rent,” shares his experiences growing up in this moving solo show. The musical chronicles his participation in the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning show -- especially after its composer and playwright Larson’s sudden death just a day before the premiere -- and Rapp losing his mother to cancer in 1997.

The show also deals with Rapp’s struggle with his sexual orientation, and how it affected his relationship with his loving, considerate mother. He came out as a bisexual at age 18 to his mother over the phone. As the show’s title suggests, the musical captures a series of moments of success and joy even while losing one’s most valued relationships.

Unsurprisingly, it took Rapp a very long time to write the memoir. He was first approached by his publisher in 1996 or 1997, and finally finished the book in 2006. 
American stage and film actor Anthony Rapp poses for a photo in Itaewon, Seoul, on Wednesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea herald)
American stage and film actor Anthony Rapp poses for a photo in Itaewon, Seoul, on Wednesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea herald)

“(The publisher) had lost his father to cancer, and my mom was in the last months of her fight,” Rapp told The Korea Herald in Itaewon, Seoul, on Wednesday. “And he asked me to write about that experience. We were both very committed to telling that story in part because there was not a lot of literature about young people losing their parent. And in writing about that I had to also write about ‘Rent’ and Jonathan Larson because it all happened at the same time. Everything affected everything.”

The show premiered at the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) in 2009, and tickets to all 10 performances were sold out only two days after they went on sale -- even before the festival started. This is Rapp’s second time performing the show in Seoul, after the first run in 2010.

There were a lot of tears during the preparing phase of the show. “Everything that happened was so intense,” he said, pointing out crying, as well as having one’s emotion out is healthy.

“I read this book about the way our brain works with memory. It said when things happen to you sometimes that are really intense, nerve pathways literally form around it and the chemicals of your brain changes with it. I didn’t have to dig deep to remember things that happened. They were so at the forefront of my brain.”

Most of the audience burst into tears as Rapp performed the last conversations he shared with his mother. Rapp remembers her as a very supportive, passionate mother. When he was a child actor, she’d travel from Joliet, Illinois to Toronto, even in the harsh winter for his acting roles.

“It’s been 15 years,” he said. “As I am getting older I understand about life more. There were so many questions we talked very openly, and there are more layers she and I could’ve developed (if the discussions took place now). That I miss.”

Being a part of Larson’s “Rent” literally changed his life. The award-winning show grossed more than $280 million in a 12-year Broadway run of 5,124 performances. It was also made into a movie in 2005, where Rapp again played the role of Cohen.

“Part of the time I was losing my mom was also the time of incredible joy (because of Rent), I was being part of something so wonderful,” he said. “I don’t say this explicitly in the show and the text, but the reason why the whole stories are together is that we are learning about how to grieve, how to experience loss and how to honor memory.”

Aside from his show, Rapp has been giving lectures at universities in Seoul about his life and career. He said he’s also received a number of responses from Korea’s LGBT organizations and individuals.

“My mother was a nurse and her primary concern I think was my health,” Rapp said of the moment he came out to his mother. “Like many mothers she wanted my life to be safe and as simple as possible. It wasn’t really a moral judgment. It was more of a concern and fear. Her reaction wasn’t ideal, but far from horrible. I talked to someone I know, and when he came out, his father handed him a gun and told him, ‘You might want to use this for yourself.’ Kids get kicked out of the house. My mom’s fear and concern was nowhere near that scale so I was really lucky.”

“Without You” runs until March 4 at SangSang Art Hall in Daechi-dong, Seoul. Korean subtitles are available. For tickets and information, call (02) 1544-1681.

By Claire Lee (