It's not often one gets to see a live performance by an actor who originated a role on Broadway so conclusively that every other take on the part (in this case, Mark Cohen in RENT) seems like an imitation. Visitors to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe can do just that this year by attending Without You, a one-man show starring Anthony Rapp, from the original cast of Jonathan Larson's groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning rock opera.
Rapp recounts his experience auditioning for, rehearsing and performing RENT, with recollections and details that will undoubtedly be of great value to anyone with a passing interest in that show and which immediately elevate the evening to must-see status for the modern musical theatre enthusiast. Quickly though, Without You's principal themes of grief and loss begin to dominate, first with the untimely death of Larson on the eve of RENT's opening night, and more prominently as Rapp discusses, and relives, events surrounding his own mother's deteriorating health.
While a couple of heightened emotional moments during the course of the show may not sit well with more cynical audience members, it seems unfair to criticise Rapp on this basis; the events presented really happened, and the passion and honesty with which they are addressed should be applauded. And rapturously applauded Rapp is throughout, with ripples of delight coursing through the audience each time the excellent band starts playing another RENT song; as well as his own numbers from the show, he performs One Song Glory and Without You, a song whose beauty is as breathtaking as ever here.
Though very sad, the show has many lighter moments, among them a final, upbeat rendition of Seasons of Love with audience members clapping along despite the tears streaming down their faces. A difficult but rewarding 75 minutes, Without You will move those open to the idea, and all the legions of subsequent Mark Cohens - myself among them - can do is watch and learn.