It’s been much longer than five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes since “Rent” stars Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal and Daphne Rubin-Vega have last reunited, but they caught up Wednesday to reminisce about their experience working on Jonathan Larson’s hit Broadway show.
The actors joined Sirius XM host Seth Rudetsky and producer James Wesley for a conversation about their time on the groundbreaking musical. The live-streamed event was held to support The Actors Fund.
Rapp recalled his experience auditioning for the role of Mark Cohen, saying he “screwed up” his audition and callback. He first sang “Losing My Religion” by REM and jumped a verse.
“I’m a big rock and roll/pop fan,” Rapp said. “I actually screwed it up, I jumped a verse. Tim Weil, the original music director who was the accompanist of my audition, helped me out and caught up with where I was. But, you know, I got the role.”
Pascal first learned about the audition for Roger Davis from Idina Menzel’s then-boyfriend. (Menzel portrayed Maureen Johnson in the original production of “Rent.”) Menzel and Pascal grew up together and have known each other since elementary school.
“I was a huge fan of musical movies. ‘Hair,’ ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ ‘Tommy’ and ‘Grease’ — I devoured them and I watched them over and over again,” Pascal said. “I had a strong connection to the rock music storytelling combination. The audition was just, ‘Go with your guitar and sing a song.’ I did not have the luxury of Weil in my first audition, it was just me and my guitar and [casting agent] Bernie Telsey.”
“Rent” opened Off-Broadway in 1994 for a limited run with 10 performances. Rapp said, at the time, reactions were hopeful.
“1,000 people saw it in 1994 and the response was pretty great, even though it needed work,” Rapp said. “My friends who came, my brother who came, had strong opinions, like, ‘This is special and exciting. Yes, it needs work, but there’s something special here.'”
Pascal recalled one scene in specific that underwent changes. When he sings “One Song Glory,” the stage direction initially had him sitting on a table and then venturing across the stage during the chorus. Since he didn’t know the lyrics, he had to return to the table to read off notecards with the words.
“The song is blocked that way because I could not remember the lyrics and I had the lyrics written on these orange index cards and they were taped to the table,” Pascal said. “I would sit on the table and just be able to casually look over my shoulder and occasionally take a look at the lyrics. Michael (the stage director) said, ‘You’ve gotta get rid of those cards. I’ve watched you 100 times, you don’t look at them anymore.'”
For Rubin-Vega, “Rent” was monumental because it featured her as a woman of color in a leading role onstage.
“Particularly, looking like me, I think it is historic,” Rubin-Vega said. “I don’t take that lightly, especially after seeing people from ‘American Idiot’ and ‘Hamilton’ and beyond.”
In between the conversation, Rapp performed “The Kite” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” another show he starred in. Pascal also broke out his guitar to belt “No Day But Today” from “Rent.”
“Rent” was pivotal in Rapp’s career, and he says it’s no surprise that the show’s legacy still endures.
“You just never know what anything will be,” Rapp said. “It turned out, of course, to be the thing that changed my life.”