This review is from 'Without You's run at the Underbelly, Edinburgh, during the Edinburgh Fringe
f Jonathan Larson's 'Rent' is a very American musical, then Anthony Rapp – pictured below, one of its original stars – is a very American performer. He goes about this autobiographical solo show with the megawatt charisma of a motivational speaker, bounding, gesticulating and emoting without inhibition, nary a shred of cynicism on display.
It's a magnetic performance, but weirdly detached. Despite the confessional tone, Rapp's delivery feels purely rhetorical – I get the impression he'd perform an identical show even if there was no audience. But that's not necessarily a bad thing: 'Without You' is very much about Rapp 's personal grief, at the death of his mother and the death of Larson, both of whom passed away during the early days of 'Rent'.
At best, his detachment from us gives the impression he is working through something intensely private that we are privileged to be witness to. At worst it feels too sterile, with some weird omissions (he never actually says what Larson died of, for instance).
Any thinness, however, is compensated for by the music. Rapp may have been singing the songs from 'Rent' for almost two decades now, but there's not an iota of tiredness in his electrifying, emotive performance of a handful of them here.
Powered by a slick five-piece band, these renditions of the likes of 'La Vie Bohème' and 'Seasons of Love' are as moving and muscular performances of musical theatre as you'll see on any stage this year, their piquancy increased only by the thread of loss that runs through the show.
'Rent' was never the hit in this country that it was on Broadway; this fine show is as close to seeing that original production as we're ever going to get.
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