Anthony Rapp mines grief and triumph in moving Without You

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Anthony Rapp explores his life and work, his triumphs and his tragedies, in the solo show Without You at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre. Photos by Russ Rowland

In the blockbuster musical Rent, Anthony Rapp originated the role of Mark Cohen, a filmmaker who uses his camera as a sort of shield to protect himself from the pain and drama that seems to overwhelm the world he’s documenting. As Rapp points out in his deeply moving musical solo show Without You, now at the Curran Theatre courtesy of BroadwaySF, when he was involved in the first off-Broadway production of Rent at the New York Theatre Workshop, like Mark, he started documenting the process through his own camera – a detail that didn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated by Rent creator Jonathan Larson.

In Without You, Rapp further cements his role as a documentarian by taking us through those incredible, tumultuous early days of Rent, from a first workshop to that off-Broadway production and, most notably, to that fateful night of the final dress rehearsal when Larson, only 35, died suddenly. It’s a tragic tale, told often, but its emotional impact only seems to grow. Rapp relates a funny incident that happened at a party when a friend met Larson, who told him (probably half-jokingly, half not) that he was the “future of musical theater.” And in many ways, he was. He just wasn’t here to enjoy it or take it another step further.

Rapp was in his mid-20s when Rent changed his life – changed the lives of all the original cast members – and he recounts that time with the measured temperament of the 50-ish seasoned veteran he is, but he captures that youthful joy and then sudden grief with dazzling power.

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The tremendous loss of Larson and the subsequent mega-success of his show create a highly emotional journey and give Rapp the opportunity to sing a number of songs from Rent accompanied by a five-piece band.

As if that weren’t emotional enough, Rapp’s exploration of loss and grief extends to his own family. Concurrently with his ever-intensifying Rent experience, Rapp’s mother was dealing with cancer and its various treatments, hospitalizations and life intrusions. He flies home to Joliet, Ill., when he’s able, and (happily), his mom is able to fly to New York for the Broadway opening of Rent. Her section of the story involves original songs, including one called “Wild Bill,” which is the name she gave the first round of cancer, and the wrenching “Visits to You,” a tense, tear-jerking musing on whether a visit will turn out to be the last.

From where we were sitting at Thursday’s opening-night performance, the sound mix in the Curran leaned far too heavily on the band and not nearly enough on Rapp, but in spite of that balance, Rapp’s performance kept the audience, well, rapt.

So much of the show, both the Larson side and the mom side, are about the weight of grief and the ways we can choose to move into it and, if we’re lucky, through it. That weight never goes away, which is probably why Rapp’s story from nearly 30 years ago still feels so potent and powerful. To borrow words from Rent, we seem to need a constant reminder that

There’s only us, There’s only this
Forget regret, or life is yours to miss
No other road, no other way
No day but today

Anthony Rapp’s Without You continues through Sunday, Oct. 22 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Running time: 95 minutes (no intermission). Tickets start at $49 (prices are subject to change). Call 888-746-1799 or visit

Wilson Jermaine Heredia goes from Rent to Camelot

When Wilson Jermaine Heredia decided to make a splash in the Broadway world, he dove right in and created giant waves. For his performance as the dazzling drag performer Angel Schunard in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rent he won Tony, Drama Desk and Obie awards and was nominated for an Olivier when he reprised the role in London.

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Since that splash, Heredia has worked consistently – his most recent Broadway gig was opposite Harvey Fierstein in the Tony-winning revival of La Cage aux Folles, but for his next chapter, the 41-year-old actor has taken a road that has led him away from his native New York (he was born and bred in Brooklyn) and to a new home and a new life here in San Francisco.

He is making his local debut as Lancelot in the San Francisco Playhouse production of Camelot directed by Bill English, who is putting a decidedly different twist on this classic, albeit eternally troublesome musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederic Loewe.

From his San Francisco home, Heredia talked about his life change and what it’s like to be a Knight of the Round Table.

Q: Since the whole Rent experience, what have you done that makes you proudest or happiest?
A: Life has been so eventful it’s hard to pick something, but I have to say that after all those years in class and working toward something, I’m getting to work with people I admired. I love that. Another thing is being able to travel and meet the people who have been influenced by Rent. I was just having a conversation with somebody yesterday about the overturning of Proposition 8 here in California. I would like to think Rent had something to do with that – not directly, but in helping to influence a change of the public opinion or perception of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. I’ve talked to a lot of parents who have told me that if it hadn’t been for the character of Angel, they might not have been able to sympathize with their child’s plight. That is priceless to me. Nothing can top that for me. The fact that I’ve been an instrument in changing people’s minds about just being human, about being more human to each other. I feel absolutely humbled by that.

Q: How did you end up living in San Francisco?
When we made the movie Rent here, the weather, the people, the food, the ambiance, the art, I thought, “This is the place.” When I wasn’t shooting, I’d explore the city and the Peninsula. It’s so beautiful, and socially, culturally, I fell in love with it. Me and the universe have this particular relationship – sort of a call-and-answer thing. I said, “If I had the opportunity, I’d live here” and the universe said, “Check. I’ll prepare that for you.” That was in 2005. Eight years later, the universe said, “Are you ready?” It was definitely time for a move, so I listened diligently and followed. I was initially worried that not being in New York or LA I’d be out of the loop. But on the contrary, more opportunities have opened up for me here. What I love most is that when I meet people here, they don’t necessarily pigeonhole me into something I’ve done before. It’s nice to stretch out and experiment.

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Q: You’re making your San Francisco stage debut in this re-imagined Camelot, which includes songs cut from the original production and a feel that’s more Game of Thrones than the fairy tale-ish Camelot we’ve come to know. What’s your take on director Bill English’s version?
I’ve never seen Camelot, but from my knowledge of how it’s been done before, it seems it was done more superficially. We’re really playing more of what’s in the script. For instance, my song “C’est Moi” is an easy number to perform if you just gloss over it as sort of a celebration of self. But in Bill’s vision, the song is much more about Lancelot’s desire to be the best. He’s worked his whole life toward this particular goal, and he’s there. When he says, “I’m far too humble to lie,” he really means it. His confidence comes less from himself and more from his faith. So much of what he does is about faith and ideals and values. Love definitely comes into that as a belief and a faith because it feels just as real as any belief system, any religion. That’s where the conflict comes for Lancelot. There’s this deification of King Arthur and elevating Camelot to a divine height, then there’s this love he feels for Queen Guinevere. I think part of what Bill is concentrating on here is the naivete of following things without thinking them through. He’s really trying to get to the core of the show and wants us to play it as truthfully as possible, which is really exciting.

Camelot photo above by Jessica Palopoli

Camelot begins previews July 16, opens July 20 and continues through Sept. 14 at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$100. Call 415-677-9596 or visit

`Rent’ is, apparently, still due

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Anthony Rapp (left) is Mark, Lexi Lawson (center) is Mimi and Adam Pascal is Roger in the latest national touring company of the rock musical Rent, coming to San Francisco’s Curran Theatre in October. Photo by Joan Marcus

You’re never too old to play a Bohemian 20something who can’t pay the rent.

At least that’s the theory behind the latest tour of Rent, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical once again criss-crossing the country under the rubric Rent: The Broadway Tour. Original cast members Adam Pascal (Roger), Anthony Rapp (Mark) and Gwen Stewart (that amazing voice in the song “Seasons of Love”) are starring the show that made them stars when the acclaimed rock musical made its Broadway debut in 1996.

According to Wikipedia, Pascal is 38, Rapp is 37 and Stewart is 45.

Rent runs Oct. 6 through 18 at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre. Tickets go on sale May 29. The show is presented as a special attraction of the 2008-2009 Citibank Best of Broadway series season under the direction of Carole Shorenstein Hays.

Also in the cast are Nicolette Hart (Maureen Johnson), Justin Johnston (Angel Schunard), Lexi Lawson (Mimi Marquez), Michael McElroy (Tom Collins), Jacques C. Smith (Benjamin Coffin III) and Haneefah Wood (Joanne Jefferson). The ensemble is rounded out by Karmine Alers, Toby Blackwell, Adam Halpin, Trisha Jeffrey, Joshua Kobak, Telly Leung, Jed Resnick, Andy Señor, Caren Tackett, Yuka Takara and John Watson.

Pascal, Rapp and Stewart originated the roles of Roger Davis, Mark Cohen and “Seasons of Love” soloist, respectively, at the New York Theatre Workshop and on Broadway. Justin Johnston, Michael McElroy, Telly Leung and Stewart were all members of the final company of Rent, which played its last performance on Broadway on Sept. 7, 2008.

San Francisco’s relationship with Rent began in March 1999 when the musical opened and played an extended six-month engagement at the Golden Gate Theatre through September 1999. The show returned to San Francisco for engagements in 2001, 2002 and 2006. When it came time to make the movie in 2005, San Francisco-based director Chris Columbus chose to shoot most of it here on soundstages at Treasure Island and in the SOMA district neighborhood.


Rent: The Broadway Tour tickets range from $30 to $99. Call 415-512-7770 or visit The Curran Theatre is at Geary St., San Francisco.

Here’s rehearsal footage of Rapp and Pascal rehearsing “What You Own.”

Review: `Spring Awakening’

Opened Sept. 7, 2008 at the Curran Theatre, San Francisco

Kyle Riabko and Christy Altomare are Melchior and Wendla, the doomed lovers in Spring Awakening, the Tony Award-winning musical that launched its national tour at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre. Photos by Paul Kolnik.


Sex, violence and rock ‘n’ roll: `Spring Awakening’ jolts San Francisco

It’s appropriate that on the very same night Rent ended its 12-year run on Broadway, Spring Awakening officially launched its national tour at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway season.

Both shows re-imagine older texts – for Rent it was Puccini’s La Boheme, for Spring Awakening it was Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German play of the same name – and infuse them with elements of pop, rock and Broadway. And each show in its own way has taken musical theater a step away from extinction.

Unlike Rent, which never really had a chance to be finished, Spring Awakening is an expertly crafted masterwork in the art of musical theater. The show, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, connects on a powerfully emotional and visceral level. It breaks all the rules and dares to be as bold as it is beautiful.

The national touring company that opened Sunday night is every bit as good as the original Broadway company – in some cases better — and the production itself is just as electrifying. The young performers, ranging in age from 18 to 27, attack the piece with gusto and don’t shy away from the sex, nudity, masturbation, violence and rock ‘n’ roll rebellion that infuses its 2 ½ hours.

Director Michael Mayer maintains firm control over the proceedings, guiding his vibrant young performers to an astonishing level of honesty as they veer between the late 19th-century play about adult repression of hormonal teenagers and the 21st-century rock concert that unleashes a torrent of emotions. It helps that Christine Jones’ set keeps things simple (with audience members seated on the right and left sides of the stage) for the scenes and then allows Kevin Adams’ gorgeous lighting design to wash over the stage and provide rock concert energy during the songs.

Heading the cast is Kyle Riabko as Melchior Gabor, a bright young man “of distinct intellectual capacity,” as Sater puts it, and Blake Bashoff as Moritz Stiefel, a “neurasthenic imbecile” and Melchior’s best friend.

Moritz, with his punk-rock haircut and desperate face, is the show’s anti-hero with a too-active mind (and libido) and nowhere to channel his considerable energies. Bashoff’s take on the character is more comic to start, but when, in Act 2, Moritz’s story turns tragic, Bashoff is like an exposed nerve, and his pain is palpable, most notably in the raging “Don’t Do Sadness.”

Melchior is a much smoother character, but he has his share of inner turmoil, which Riabko communicates effectively. In the devastating second act, this young Canadian rock star proves himself an actor of considerable depth and commitment. He gives a great performance and bears the emotional weight of the play in his extraordinary ballad “Those You’ve Known.”

Christy Altomare is Wendla Bergman, a curious young woman who inspires the show’s (and the original play’s) most provocative scene when she asks Melchior to beat her because her comfortable life has been so devoid of acute feeling or sensation. Stunningly beautiful and with a voice to match, Altomare is entirely believable as someone trapped in the chasm between child and adult, and her performance of “Whispering,” a ballad tinged with hope and tragedy, is shattering.

The power of the entire ensemble, which includes Angela Reed and Henry Stram as all the adult characters, is undeniable, especially when they join voices on songs such as “Touch Me,” “I Believe” and the exquisite, heart-rending “Song of Purple Summer.” AnnMarie Milazzo’s vocal arrangements find the rich textures of Sheik’s gorgeous music, and music director Jared Stein is able to take his seven-piece band from the delicate chamber sound to full-on rock ‘n’ roll rage.

And then there are those incredible moments of chaos amid the sadness and balladry. First we get the boys, in the midst of a stern, abusive Latin lesson, breaking into “The Bitch of Living,” and then we get the entire cast exploding into teenage anarchy in “Totally F***ed.” Both numbers feature the extraordinary choreography of Bill T. Jones, whose gestural vocabulary, built slowly and subtly throughout the show, erupts into a storm of bodies punctuating the air with expressed anger and the joy of sweet release.

We’ve been told that in musicals, the songs should forward the story or reveal character, but here, Sheik and Sater’s songs don’t usually do that. They’re more like emotional commentary, a bridge between the late 1800s and now. It’s a score that is immediately appealing and accessible but that rewards the listener with something new on every listen.

The cast performs expertly — Steffi D as Ilse, a young woman cast out of her home to fend for herself, makes a huge impression on “Blue Wind” – but there are places where more performance experience will reveal further depths.

That said, there’s no denying the power and sheer beauty of this remarkable show.

Will Spring Awakening have the staying power of Rent? I’d venture to say it will have more than staying power: it will go down in musical history as one of the greats.


Spring Awakening continues through Oct. 12 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$99. Call 415-512-7770 or visit or for information.

`Rent’ is due (in movie theaters)

There aren’t many details yet, but you can check out Sony Pictures’ Web site for “The Hot Ticket” about the final performances of Rent on Broadway being shown in movie theaters around the country on Sept. 24, 25, 27 and 28. You can sign up to receive details when available.

There’s a little video that promises “an appearance by the original cast.”

You can also find more details here at as they surface.

Frenchie Davis ready for `Misbehavin’

When her stint on season two of “American Idol” flared into controversy, Frenchie Davis became infamous. The promising young singer had been kicked off early on because of some risqué photos found on the Internet.

The singer managed to turn that infamy into hard-won fame through sheer hard work and by maintaining a focus on what was really important to her.

Her answer to all that media fuss was to turn to theater. She was offered a part in the long-running Broadway musical Rent, and she took it. She parlayed that into a West Coast tour of Dreamgirls that brought her to Sacramento and San Jose.

She’s back in the Bay Area as part of an ongoing series of former “American Idol” contestants performing at the Rrazz Room, a posh cabaret in the Hotel Nikko.

Davis performs through Aug. 2 with a rotating roster of “Idol” kids, and at 29, it’s clear Davis has done a whole lot of growing up since she was last here.

“My sanity is important to me,” Davis says. “I like the fact that I’ve been able to do what I love and still enjoy my life. I can tell you, I have crossed paths and met so many women who are way richer than I am, way more famous, but they don’t enjoy their lives more than I do. They’re miserable, empty shells, thoroughly Botoxed. They don’t even remember who they were when they got into the business.”

During the media melee that erupted during her post-“Idol” days, Davis says she nearly forgot who she was – a girl from Inglewood, California, who didn’t grow up with much money – and what she loved.

“I don’t want to lose my love for this, for performing,” she says. “Most black girls started singing in church. I started in musicals. I always was a little theater queen. I genuinely got into this business because I love to sing. I can’t even describe what it feels like when I’m on stage and I open my mouth. When I’m in a bad mood, I turn on some Aretha and sing along, and I’m over it. By track 4 I’m over it.”

After the Dreamgirls tour, Davis went back to Rent and ended staying four years and nearly driving herself to exhaustion. The grind of eight shows a week on Broadway wore her down, and she developed polyps on her vocal chords and had to have surgery.

But all the hard work also resulted in a slimmer Davis, who is a whole dress size smaller than the last time we saw her around here four years ago.

“Part of it was doing eight shows a week and having a New York Sports Club right next to the theater,” she says. “The other part is about my grandmother, who passed away with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. On her deathbed, she made me and my mother promise to be good to ourselves.”

Davis still appreciates her big girl status – “My curves are sexy. I like them and my boyfriends like them.” – but she has a greater appreciation for fitness than she used to.

“Trust me, I’m not trying to be thin, not even a little bit,” she says. “I want to keep my dress size in the double digits. I’d be happy with a 14 to a 16. This is about pushing my body to the limit. Doing theater, if you can’t sing and dance without running out of breath, you’re in trouble. I’ll tell you this: an hour of cardio workout followed by the steam room opens me up, and I can sing anything.”

A hit on the gay pride circuit around the world (she just returned from Carnivale in Rio), Davis will record some dance music. “I owe that to my gays,” she says. But as for a debut album, she’s still soul searching on that topic.

“Everyone says, `Frenchie, you gotta do an album,’ but I just don’t know,” she says. “The recording industry comes with so much stuff, and nothing that has to do with music. You know, Nell Carter never recorded an album, but we know how fabulous she was. If I keep working to make it better, people will remember my contribution to the arts. I truly believe my contributions to the world will be outside of music. Like the Frenchie Davis School of the Arts. I’ll definitely have a legacy.”

When Davis headed to “Idol” land, she left Howard University in Washington, D.C., about 30 credits shy of her diploma. Education is important to her, and she had planned on going back to finish this fall. But then musical theater interfered. Instead of hitting the books, she’ll be hitting the road, along with “American Idol” Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard in a production of the Fats Waller revue Ain’t Misbehavin’.

“I’ll go back to school in the fall of ’09,” Davis says. “I can still work on the weekends. And I won’t be a poor student again. I remember that was like. I’ll have the time and money to finish the degree right.”

In the meantime she’s looking forward to touring with her good friend Studdard.

“Ruben’s my boo!” she trills. “When we were on the show we hung out a lot. Us and Rickey Smith and some of the other kids. Everybody else, well, let’s just say they were advanced. Maybe in college I had a glass of wine or smoked a joint, but I didn’t dabble beyond that. Some of those other kids were advanced. They’d be full out. And me and Ruben and Ricky, Nashika and Julie and some others would be playing cards in my room. We didn’t have time for shenanigans.”

When her show business shenanigans are over, Davis says she’s turning toward making a difference in the world like her father, who works with a human rights organization in Darfur. She may even get a master’s degree in international affairs at NYU.

“You know, I’m not 23 anymore. I’m not even 25,” Davis says. “I’m thinking about my life goals, not just career goals. When do I want to become a mother? I don’t want to wait ’til I’m 40 to have kids. And theater takes such a toll on the voice and body. I have to figure out what I’m going to do when my body says to me, `Bitch, I’m not doing eight shows a week anymore.’ In the theater, you can’t fake it. It has to be real, and I want to keep it real and then move on.”

For information: Frenchie Davis appears with other former “American Idol” contestants Rickey Smith, Julia DeMato and Trenyce today (July 25) through Sunday (July 26) and with RJ Helton, Julia DeMato and Trenyce July 29-August 2. The Rrazz Room is in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$55 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 866-468-3399 or visit

Idina Menzel flying into SF

A Tony Award-winner for Wicked (and we all know it isn’t easy being green), Idina Menzel is bringing her concert tour to the Bay Area.

The former Rent star, who just released a major label album called I Stand, will play the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre on Aug. 14.

Though touring to support her new disc, Menzel (who appeared on big screens, but did not sing in Disney’s Enchanted), will not disappoint fans who want to hear her sing some of her famous show tunes. As Menzel told “It’s not such a hard stretch because the shows I’ve been in are contemporary. I take them out of their context and unplug them a little bit and strip them down and put them more into the context of my show. They seem to work really well, and they’re not changed so much that die-hard theatre fans would be disappointed, I don’t think. I feel like I’m getting a good response. So that’s really nice for me, to kind of join all my worlds together, and it doesn’t feel like it’s so erratic. It feels cohesive, and it feels like all one artist.”

For information visit

Tours, tours everywhere

We still don’t know what’s in store for the new SHN/Best of Broadway season (announcement to be made soon). But news out of New York is that there are all kinds of tours heading out on the road that may or may not be coming San Francisco way.

One of those tours is Disney’s Mary Poppins. And the news there is that original Broadway stars Ashley Brown (Mary) and Gavin Lee (Bert the chimney sweep — also from the London cast) will head out on tour with the show. How rare it is to get the original Broadway stars (though these aren’t exactly mega-watt stars) to hit the road. There’s no San Francisco date, but Mary Poppins does have a date at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles, so at least it will be within shouting distance.

Also heading out on tour is Curtains, the final Kander and Ebb musical (with an assist from Rupert Holmes after Ebb died). This is the theater-loving whodunit that earned David Hyde Pierce his best actor Tony Award. The Broadway production closes next month and heads out on tour in the Fall of ’09., which begs the question: will anyone remember the show by then?

Finally, this isn’t really a tour, but it may be coming to a town near you.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Rent is finally closing after 12 years on Sept. 7, and now a new business venture from Sony Pictures Releasing called The Hot Ticket, will film the final performance and broadcast it to movie theaters around the country (much like what the Metropolitan Opera is doing, though this sounds like it won’t be live, which is a bummer).

Screening dates in the U.S. and in Canada have yet to be announced, although Hot Ticket presentations will be shown in strictly limited engagements in 2K and 4K digital theatres.

In a statement Sony Pictures Releasing president Roy Bruer said, “Going to your favorite theater doesn’t mean just going to the movies anymore. Audiences everywhere enjoy sharing special events with their friends and family in public places – it’s just not the same at home. Our mandate will be to identify the one-of-a-kind and sold-out events that people around the country most want to see and we will work to present them to audiences everywhere. With the very best in special event programming and state-of-the-art digital projection and sound in theaters, The Hot Ticket will offer the kind of unparalleled, access that will make these events memorable viewing experiences.”

You can sign up for updates at

`Shrek’ sings, `Strange’ passes, Clay spams a lot

With that nasty kerfuffle involving the stagehands and the dark Broadway theaters well behind us, it’s time to take a look at what’s going on in New York, where the play is really the thing.

Sure wish I could go see Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, the hottest play on Broadway right now. On a more local front, Letts’ Bug will have its West Coast debut at SF Playhouse in May, filling the slot that was going to be filled with Mark Jackson’s Faust, Part One.

The big news on Broadway recently is that Rent’s lease is up. The pioneering rock musical, which won a posthumous Pulitzer prize for its creator, Jonathan Larson, will close on June 1 and enter the record books as Broadway’s seventh-longest-running musical.

When one musical closes, another one — most likely based on a movie — fills its place.

And here comes Shrek the Musical.

The CGI ogre, who has now starred in three hit movies, will make his musical theater debut this summer in Seattle before moving on to Broadway in November. The creative team behind the DreamWorks musical is impressive (even if the subject matter isn’t): Oscar-winner Sam Mendes is an artistic consultant (and sort of got the project rolling); Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, Or Change); Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) penned the book and lyrics; and Jason Moore (Avenue Q) is directing.

Moore has said the plot will follow the first movie, when Shrek joins up with his donkey cohort, Donkey, and falls in love with Princess Fiona.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid opened to reviews that were mostly piles of stinking fish. My impression, from reading those fragrant notices is that the show is overproduced, overstuffed and ought to have been thrown back early on. Still, I’d like to see it, if only to watch capable actors skate around on wheeled footwear.

With Mermaid packing in the family crowd, adult interest will shift to Passing Strange, the rock musical by Stew, Heidi Rodewald and director Annie Dorsen that had its pre-New York run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The show is transferring to Broadway and begins performances Feb. 8 at the Belasco Theatre.

The cast is the same one we saw in Berkeley in November 2006: de’Adre Aziza, Daniel Breaker, Eisa Davis, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Stew, himself (with Rodewald on bass and vocals in the band).

And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Shrek isn’t the only ogre on Broadway. Clay Aiken opened in Spamalot.

Adam Pascal: More than one song, glory

Here’s a sneak peek at my interview with Adam Pascal, who’s performing Oct. 27 and 28 at the Post Street Theatre in San Francisco (more info below).

Like any good blog item, there are bonus features that won’t make it into the newspaper.

Adam Pascal and Idina Menzel were friends in high school on Long Island. Well, not friends exactly, more like friendly. She was dating one of his good friends, and she was a year younger.

So what were the stars of Rent like in high school?

“In all honesty, I was cool and she was a nerd,” Pascal says on the phone from his Los Angeles home. “But she was a year younger. You know how that is in high school. She might as well have been 10 years younger.”

During those tender teenage years, Pascal was a heavy metal fan (“Judas Priest, that was my band!”) and had his very own band, which went through many names, including Wine and Vision. The band’s final name was Mute.

“I was outvoted three to one on that name,” Pascal says. And what was his choice? “Anything but Mute.”

Pascal’s rock ‘n’ roll career didn’t quite took off, but thanks to his “nerdy” friend Menzel, he got his big break.

She had already been cast in a raucous little off-Broadway musical about drag queens, artists and people with AIDS. It was called Rent, and her boyfriend at the time, mentioned to Pascal that the creative team was having trouble casting a rocker-type in the role of Roger.

If you saw Rent on Broadway or caught last year’s movie version, you know Pascal got the part and soared to fame largely on the power of his electrifying ballad, “One Song, Glory.”

Though Broadway fame beckoned _ Pascal would go on to play the Emcee in Cabaret during its long run and originate the role of Radames in Disney’s Aida _ Pascal still yearned for rock stardom.

“When Rent exploded, I thought for sure this was my springboard to a major label record deal,” he says. “But it didn’t happen for a lot of reasons. Frankly, I don’t think I had the chops to do it back then. I didn’t really know who I was as a singer or a songwriter.”
He has a better idea now.

On Wednesday (Oct. 25), Pascal turned 36, and tonight (Oct. 27) he plays the first of two solo concert gigs at San Francisco’s Post Street Theatre. He’s on a concert tour that is taking him to college campuses, theaters and the odd YMCA.

The concert is just him on bass and guitar and a pianist. His repertoire comes from his two solo albums, “Model Prisoner” and “Civilian” (both on the Sh-K-Boom label), and from Broadway shows.

Of course he sings “One Song, Glory,” but he has re-imagined it as what he describes as a “haunting piano ballad with a different time signature.” He also throws in “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line, “Maria” from West Side Story and “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret.

“I wanted to experiment with taking Broadway tunes and drastically re-arranging them without changing their intent,” Pascal says. “A lot of times, taken out of context, musical theater material doesn’t work. I wanted to make the songs more palatable.”

Assuming the movie of Rent would be a big hit and offers would pour in, Pascal and his wife, Cybele, and their two sons, Lennon Jay, 5, and Montgomery Lovell, 3, moved to Los Angeles.

The offers didn’t pour in.

“If I didn’t have music in my life…” Pascal says, then pauses for thought. “If I was out here just trying to be an actor, I’d kill myself. It’s brutal. I feel like every audition I go to I’m at an International Male catalog call with all these super-buffed-up, super-handsome male model-looking guys. You want to be taken seriously as an actor and be judged on your talent, but that’s not what it’s about.”

But Pascal does have his music _ and his family _ and he’s doing all right.

Reflecting on his birthday, Pascal says: “I’m much, sort of, smarter and more adept at what I do than I was 10 years ago. Music is a young person’s business, but it didn’t happen for me as a young person. It’s happening to me now. It took whatever my life experiences have been for the last 10 years to acquire the skills I need to do this well. I feel I have more of those skills to be a better musician, lyricist, player, whatever. I’m finally coming into my own.”

If you’re interested in knowing what Pascal is listening to these days (mostly at the gym): he just downloaded the Scissor Sisters’ latest, “Ta Da,” OK Go’s latest and a group called She Wants Revenge.

For Pascal neophytes, if you’d like to sample him at his best, of course download “One Song, Glory” from Rent. Pascal himself recommends the following three tracks from his solo work: “I’m with You” and “The Ringing in My Ear” from “Civilian” and “Undiscovered” from “Model Prisoner.”

I’d like to add Pascal’s excellent recording of “I Got Life” from the benefit recording of Hair on the Sh-K-Boom label.

Adam Pascal’s concerts are at 8 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28 at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post St., San Francisco. Tickets are $35 to $85. Call (415) 771-6900 or visit for information.