Best known for creating the role of Mark in Rent, Rapp has been with If/Then since its earliest readings nearly five years ago. After playing the role of Lucas on Broadway for a year, Rapp has been touring the country with the show since last fall.
Here, Rapp opens up about touring, his fondest memory of Rent, and whether or not he’ll ever play Mark again.
You’ve been with If/Then for quite a while now.
Yeah, since the very first readings we ever did, which I think was 2010 or 2011. I don’t remember which of those two years it was.
Are you the last original man standing?
Yeah, from way back then, yes. There are two original Broadway cast members still with the company: Tyler McGee in the ensemble and Marc delaCruz, who plays David on tour and was an understudy and swing on Broadway.
Why do you think you’ve stayed with the show this long? Do you just have a great connection to it?
I do. I have a very longstanding feeling of loyalty to projects that I love and believe in and the people involved in this project. So yeah, all of those reasons.
How big of a role has [director] Michael Greif played in you staying with this project so long? You two obviously go way back [to Rent].
Yeah, I mean, he’s a huge reason why. Also, David Stone, the producer. I’ve known him for 20 years and we’ve worked together on a couple other things, and this is the first thing I’ve done as an actor with him producing, so I’ve had a long-standing relationship with David as well; David very strongly asked me if I would do the whole tour, and I feel a tremendous amount of loyalty to him. And also to [composer] Tom [Kitt] and [writer] Brian [Yorkey], so it’s really all of the above. And I like touring—I don’t want to do it all the time, but several years ago I went on the tour of Rent with Adam Pascal and I feel like I know what the rhythms of touring are like and I know how to make that work for myself.
Nowadays, it’s rare that one of the stars from the Broadway production will go on tour anymore. Years ago, all the stars toured. Why do you think there’s been this shift where original stars just don’t go on the road anymore?
I don’t really know, honestly. I don’t know. When I was coming up as a kid, I did The King and I on tour with Yul Brynner; he was touring with it. So that’s what I’m familiar with. I don’t know why or when it changed, I really don’t. Touring life—there are challenges involved, certainly—it’s not ideal in some ways, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity in many ways as well. I think maybe people are afraid of missing out on stuff. It’s a good question.
How does performing on tour in these huge venues differ from performing in a more intimate space, like on Broadway?
It’s a little different in that every week or two weeks or however long we’re in each city, we have to get sort of accustomed to the feel of it, but it still lands even when it’s a bigger house. I personally prefer a more intimate house, but that’s just the nature of the road that you play some of these houses that are 3,000 seats, 4,000 seats, and that’s a very big difference from 1,500 seats. But any show that has emotional weight to it and good music can fill any kind of theater, I think. It’s also beautifully designed, and there’s certainly eye candy.
What are the differences between rehearsing the show for Broadway and rehearsing it for the road?
Well, it’s a new group of people. And then there are little things: Michael Greif has always been the kind of director who tinkers. Certainly with Rent over the years, every time we went out on the tour there were little things that we changed and added. He’s always refining in his own mind certain things that he wants to make better, and Tom and Brian had little things they wanted to keep refining.
In If/Then, we get to see Elizabeth’s life play out in two different ways. Everyone thinks about what might have been or what could have been. Do you think that relatability is why the show seems to have the enduring appeal that it does?
Yeah, I do think it’s very relatable and I think it’s very human. I also think it’s entertaining, but I think that If/Then goes deeper and it resonates with people more powerfully reflecting on their own lives and their own choices and the good and the bad that happens to all of us. I think it’s genuinely surprising, but that’s like—life is often genuinely surprising. A good friend of mine, his wife, her father—I think it was [in] April—started feeling a little funky, went to the doctor, diagnosed with cancer, and he just died last week. I mean, that’s a surprise. I feel like people need and crave storytelling that helps put those kinds of experiences into context, or it gives them the opportunity for catharsis.
What’s next for you after the tour wraps up?
I’m doing a bunch of concerts with Adam Pascal. We have two weeks slated at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York in October, but more and more inquiries and bookings keep coming through pretty often these days, which is kind of nice; I love doing that, it’s really fun. So that’s one [of] the things. There are also a couple things swirling that I’m waiting to see how they settle, but I’m not urgently jumping into anything long-term right away after being on the road for all this time. I’ll take it as it comes and be picky, as I usually am.
You guys should bring your concert to Boston! That would be great.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, it’s possible. We haven’t gotten booked up there yet, but it’s possible.
You are so well known for Rent, have you ever considered it a burden? Some actors become known for something and then grow to have a bit of resentment.
Truly, no. It never has been. I’ve been acting professionally for 35 years and so I have a very strong sense of how extraordinary that opportunity was and remains and how much it’s given to me and how much it continues to give to me. It will never feel like a burden, ever.
That’s good to hear. It really is.
Thank you, it’s the truth.
I don’t suppose you’ll be going out on the 20th Anniversary tour of Rent, will you?
No. I’m done playing Mark. I’ve played Mark in all the very best possible venues and opportunities that I could have ever wanted, and that chapter of my life is done, as far as performing it. I still sing songs from it in concert, and I always will, and I love that. I will possibly direct it again, that’s something I’m interested in. I’m done performing as Mark, but I’m not done with Rent. It’s not like Rent is put to bed or like I don’t look at it or think about it or hold it close to me or anything like that.
What is your fondest memory of Rent, if you can even boil it down to one?
My fondest memory is the opening night on Broadway. My mom, who was very sick at the time, was well enough to be there, and she was hugely supportive to me as a kid; as an adult, the only reason I was able to have the opportunities I had to work was due to her diligence and her ability to make it work. So the fact that she was there witnessing that incredible moment … and the thing about the opening night on Broadway, for us, so much like Hamilton, is that it was already a success, so when it opened on Broadway there was no kind of nervousness about whether it would be a hit or a flop. It already was a hit, so it was just pure celebration. The way that the lighting for Rent was designed allowed us to see very deeply into the audience—unlike in If/Then, for instance, I can’t see anything from the stage except maybe occasionally the people in the very front row. But in Rent we could see very far into the audience, and I could see her the whole night. I mean, I wasn’t staring at her, but so much of Rent is directly singing to the audience so I could kind of sing to her sometimes. All of those things make it my fondest memory.
IF/THEN. JULY 5-17 AT THE BOSTON OPERA HOUSE, 539 WASHINGTON ST., BOSTON. BROADWAYINBOSTON.COM