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Review: Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp at the Cabaret

August 27, 2016

Twenty years ago, Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp played the male leads in a little show called “Rent.” On Aug. 26, the two visited the Cabaret at the Columbia Club with their “Acoustically Speaking” show, making strong cases for a) their individual talents, b) the legacy of their hit show, and c) the enduring strength of some of the “Rent” song stack.

A duet cover of Squeeze’s “Tempted” followed by a Pascal pairing of Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Johanna” made for an interesting but overlong opening that didn’t hint at the energy to come. Things picked up in Pascal’s set with a gender-swapped version of the Kander and Ebb standard “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret” and takes on “There’s Light” from “Rocky Horror” and  “Memory”—after a gleeful dissing of its source, the now-and-forever “Cats.”

Rather than connectivity to the material, the emphasis here was on funny stories and vocal pyrotechnics, not unexpected from a singer with a rock sensibility who happened to catch lightning in a bottle on Broadway and smartly adapted his sensibilities to this new path..

In contrast, Rapp , while not in the same vocal category, emphasized a commitment to the lyrics and character choices, kicking off with a bullseye hit on R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”—relevant because it’s the song he sang at his first “Rent” audition. It opened the door to a trio of songs he used to establish the Broadway rock legacy left by “Rent.”

The epic detail of “The Origin of Love” from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” proved a concert highlight, with Rapp building its obsessive fantasy of a creation myth before shifting to the heartbreakingly personal.

“Falling Slowly,” from “Once,” also was right in Rapp’s wheelhouse, although he said he’d never play the part because he can’t play guitar. And his “Left Behind” from “Spring Awakening” was devastating, particularly to those of us who have lost a loved one.

As powerful and sincere as it was, though, it combined with “Visits”—a song co-written by Rapp about his dying mother—and “Without You”—a song he sang at her funeral—to create a somber tone for the second half of his set, one that “Happiness Is” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” couldn’t quite alleviate.

But a crowd-pleasing final quartet of “Rent” songs from the two, individually and together (“What You Own.” “One Song Glory,” “Another Day,” “Seasons of Love') wrapped things up in an expected, upbeat, and satisfying way.

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