Without You

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Without You

New World Stages, NYC, February 4, 2023

Reviewed by Chip Deffaa

Anthony Rapp
Photo: Russ Rowland

In 2010, I saw a tryout of the first public presentation of Anthony Rapp’s autobiographical one-man show, Without You. I thought it was the best solo show I’d seen in years and hoped that it would soon get an Off-Broadway theatrical production.  It’s taken 13 years for that hope to be realized, but I’m so glad that Without You—handsomely mounted and performed by Rapp with fierce passion—is now running at New York’s New World Stages. It is still the best solo show I’ve seen in years, and it is not to be missed.

Based on his memoir of the same name, Rapp’s show tells of how he auditioned for and got cast in the rock opera that would forever change his life: Jonathan Larson’s trailblazing Rent. While Rapp was getting the biggest break of his career, starring in a landmark musical—the most impactful musical in years—he was simultaneously dealing with the losses of both his mother and of Larson. Without You, like Rent itself, became an affirmation of life in the midst of tragedy and is a reminder that we should make the most of whatever time we have.

The show, well-written and performed by Rapp and directed by Steve Maler with musical direction by Daniel A. Weiss, is quite moving. It held my attention throughout. It is extraordinarily rich with Larson’s songs: “No Day but Today,” “We’re Dying in America,” “Rent,” “La Vie Boheme,” “One Song Glory,” “Seasons of Love,” and “Without You.” Rapp has an especial affinity for Larson’s work and is its foremost interpreter. No one performs the songwriter’s material with greater conviction, He delivered the songs with a sense of complete ownership that it rare to encounter, and it is utterly satisfying. I hope he gets to record a cast album.

Are there minor flaws? Of course there are, as in any show. I don’t think the dramatic transition to the song “That Is Not You” is quite there yet. The change of mood, which should have a wholly organic and inevitable feel, seemed to be a little forced. If Rapp, the director, and the music director would experiment a bit, a way might be found to get into the energy of that song more naturally.  Also, I would have ended the show with “Without You”; I’d finish that song, have a blackout, and end the show on that note! As it is, the song is followed by a reprise of “Seasons of Love”; I liked hearing it again, but I found it a bit anti-climactic. I do understand the desire to end with “Seasons of Love.” It is so familiar and well loved, but I’m not sure that that gentle song gives this show as strong an ending or sums up its essence of this particular show as well as “Without You,” which would have ended the show in a more striking way. But these are minor issues in a show that has many powerful moments. Without You is a terrific reminder of both Larson’s strengths as a songwriter and Rapp’s strengths as a performer. I highly recommend it.

Chip Deffaa

Chip Deffaa is the author of 16 published plays and eight published books, and the producer of 24 albums. For 18 years he covered entertainment, including music and theater, for The New York Post. In his youth, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He is a graduate of Princeton University and a trustee of the Princeton "Tiger" magazine. He wrote and directed such Off-Broadway successes as "George M. Cohan Tonight!" and "One Night with Fanny Brice." His shows have been performed everywhere from London to Edinburgh to Seoul. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society, NARAS, and ASCAP. He’s won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award, the IRNE Award, and a New Jersey Press Association Award. Please visit: www.chipdeffaa.com.