REVIEW: ANTHONY RAPP (St James Studio) ★★★★

anthony-homepage-1Anthony Rapp has returned to London for a two week run at the St James Studio. His solo show coincides with the new production of RENT that begins this week at the St James Theatre, celebrating the musical’s 20th anniversary.

Rapp starred in the original Off-Broadway and then Broadway production of RENT and continued performing the role of Mark in London, on the US Tour, back on Broadway in 2009 and in the 2005 movie. He is part of the show’s history and has been very open about how important the show was to him and how it changed his life.

His appreciation for the show and its creator Jonathon Larson, who sadly passed away unexpectedly the morning of Rent’s first performance Off-Broadway, is shared throughout the evening. Rapp performs two numbers from the musical HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH which he claims was born from the importance of Larson’s RENT. Rapp played the title role in 2003 and his performance of ‘The Origin of Love’ is one of the evening’s highlights – also reminding us how much London needs a revival of HEDWIG, a show I am sure Rapp would happily front.

As well as songs from shows that Rapp has previously performed in, including a wonderful version of his song ‘You Don’t Need To Love Me’ from the recent Broadway production of IF/THEN and a heartfelt ‘Happiness’ from YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, which he dedicates to his late mother, Rapp used this opportunity to tackle some numbers from shows he hasn’t worked on. These included selections from SPRING AWAKENING, AMERICAN IDIOT and ONCE and all showed off Rapp’s versatile and experienced vocals.

The set also included several numbers that Rapp had himself written, one of these being a beautiful song written for his mother, showcasing fragility in Rapp that was felt throughout the audience. Some “RENTheads” may be disappointed with the lack of RENT talk throughout the night, with Rapp only performing 3 numbers from the show, but each of those selections are powerful and well selected. Talk is actually quite stark throughout the night but each song feels like an insight into Rapp’s personal life. Every number seems to come from Rapp’s soul, his emotional storytelling dictating his vocal choices, whether they are soaring at full speed or small and gentle, drawing the audience in. His performance of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ was enthrallingly powerful.

The show was awkwardly broken into two by an interval that seemed to have been insisted by the theatre but Rapp and his slick, small band of three kept the audience enthralled throughout the evening with a well pieced collection of songs from shows and the airwaves.

The new production of RENT that starts this week at the St James may very well be sold out, but don’t miss the opportunity to see one of the original stars of the show downstairs, in an intimate evening that London is lucky to have.

Reviewed by Oliver Williams

Anthony Rapp plays at St James Studio until 17 December 2016