Anthony Rapp from ‘Rent’ draws 200 fans at Rainbow Week event

Alexandra Finkel

In 1994 Starbucks barista Anthony Rapp had no idea his big break would come from a “rock opera” workshop that was only supposed to last three weeks and have 10 performances. That workshop turned into the Broadway show “Rent,” which has run for 12 years and closes in September.

Rapp is best known for originating the role of Mark Cohen in the 1996 production of Rent and later reprising the same role in the 2005 film version.

As part of LGBT group Rainbow Alliance’s Rainbow Week, the actor spoke to about 200 students Wednesday night about his experiences with “Rent” and his relationship with the show’s late director, Jonathan Larson.

“Rent,” the story of a group of young artists and musicians living in New York City, deals with the themes of AIDS, LGBT experiences, poverty and young love. Its overall message conveys hope in the face of tragedy and the importance of taking advantage of every day.

Rainbow Alliance has been planning to bring Rapp to campus since fall, said Co-President Jessie Kaiser.

“We eventually decided on Anthony because we thought he was a good role model for the LGBT community,” the Weinberg junior said. “He really embodies the fact that you can be who you are and a successful and happy person, but also be openly queer.”

The universal message of “Rent” has been able to reach people throughout its run and through the film, which featured mostly original cast members, Rapp said.

“Looking back all these years later, the piece itself is so much about people coming together in the face of crisis and living fully anyway, not denying it, but including it,” he said. “‘Rent’ simply tells the truth about the human experience.”

“Rent” continues to resonate with the LGBT community, and has also brought many important LGBT issues to the general population, Kaiser said.

“‘Rent’ was somewhat unprecedented in that it educated the mainstream audiences on important issues in a way that was relevant to them,” she said. He filled his speech with anecdotes, read an excerpt from his book, ‘Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent’ and then finished with a Q-and-A session. He also spoke about Larson’s death the day after the show’s dress rehearsal.

Rapp said being “out” gave him an opportunity to speak publicly about gay and lesbian issues and HIV/AIDS.

“It’s also that much more meaningful to be part of a piece that actually does say pretty much everything I believe in and hold to be true,” he said.

Weinberg sophomore Parvathi Santhosh-Kumar came to the event dressed in a black “Rent” shirt, with a “Rent” key chain attached to her hip. The former Daily staffer has seen Rapp perform in the musical twice, and said she was excited to see him speak because she is a devoted “Rent” fan.

“One aspect of ‘Rent’ that really resonated with me is the family aspect,” she said. “Regardless of the LGBT and AIDS part of it, ‘Rent’ is a story of friendship and that’s something everyone can relate to.”

Seeing Rapp in person was Weinberg freshman Lauren Jaffe’s “middle school dream come true.”

“His speech brought the show to life and made it that much more meaningful,” she said. ” ‘Rent’ meant so much to me and seeing him speak about it showed me that the show had a big impact on the people in it as well.”

Rapp closed his speech with an a cappella version of “Seasons of Love,” which he said is “unlike any other song in almost every way.”

“‘Seasons of Love’ has so much rhythm and heart and simplicity and directness of the lyrics,” he said. “For Jonathan to put that language in this song and for me and the rest of the cast to be able to have the opportunity and the privilege to declare that to the audience was particularly thrilling and empowering.”

Hear Anthony Rapp perform “Seasons of Love” by clicking here.

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