Friday, April 24, 2009

Without You: Book post of the day #1

I don't post about books very often any more, but I've read a few lately that are totally worth posting here. Since I'm home alone and sick on a Friday night, this is how I'm spending it. I slept all afternoon, and there's only so much couch lounging one can do. Incidentally, if you ever care about what I'm reading, I use the Facebook App conveniently called "I'm reading" to keep track of my books, so if you're my FB friend, just grab that app, and you'll be able to see my books. If you're not my FB friend, why not?

Okay, book number one: Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss and the Musical Rent, by Anthony Rapp. I'm a Rent-head, and I always have been. I've seen the show something like ten times now, on Broadway, in Boston and in Providence, over the past thirteen years. Anthony Rapp, for those who know the show, was the original Mark Cohen both in the workshop productions of Rent and then on Broadway, as well as in the original London and Chicago casts, and a couple of touring casts and in the film. For those who don't know the show, Anthony Rapp played the nerdy blonde guy in Dazed and Confused - you know the one that hung out with the chick with the crazy red hair? Yup, that's him. He was also the boy being babysat in Adventures in Babysitting - I know you remember him now.

While I knew about the history of the show before reading this book, hearing it from his perspective put it in a whole new light and gave me a whole new appreciation of the show and the people involved in it. This is one of the best books I've ever read. I recognize that's a big statement, but I stand by it here. Rapp discusses the phenomenal effect that Jonathan Larson and Rent have had on his life, and truly, the effect that he and other cast members and production staff have had on the show. If you don't know the history of the show, here's a Cliff's Notes version: Jonathal Larson was a struggling writer/musician living in the East Village when he wrote Rent. A number of principal characters, and the play as a whole really, are based on his friends and his life. He saw the initial success that the show had in a first round of workshops, and was thrilled with the very idea of the play being produced at all. Jonathan Larson, then 35 died suddenly of an aneursym on the eve of the preview if the New York Theater Workshop production, making the great success that the show had experienced bittersweet, to say the least.

But this is truly a memoir, and is about so much more than just the time that Rapp spent with Rent - his writing is fantastic as he tells the stories of his life - from discovering his sexuality and some of the trials of his early relationships, to his mother's battle with cancer and its effect on him. He writes with a confessional honesty, a brutal, no-holds-barred approach to the truth, both the external, factual truth and the internal truth of his feelings and emotions during these challenging and trying points in his life. A number of times as I was reading, I found myself shaking my head saying "wow" out loud to no one in particular. Truly a fantastic book.

My one caveat about this book is that if you haven't seen the show, and you disapprove of spoilers, stay away. You will learn a lot about the touching and poignant history of Rent, and about the music and story of the play and the amazing people and stories that surround it, and the ending is discussed. Fair warning. This book is a must read if you're a fan of Rent, but even if you're not, it's just a great book; one of the best I've read, for sure.

As a side note - Rapp is touring with Rent this summer, along with Adam Pascal, who played Roger Davis on Broadway, and won a Tony for that performance. The tour schedule, along with other information about the show is available here.

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