July 1, 2009 at 11:24 am by Franki Weddington
“One song…glory.” In RENT, HIV-positive rocker Roger Davis struggles to create the consummate song to carry on his legacy “before the virus takes hold.” Adam Pascal, who brought the character to life in the original production and on-screen, also experiences life through his music. After quitting his band and moving to NYC to make his fame as a solo musician, Pascal heard from a friend about RENT, a then-unknown musical that was holding auditions. When Pascal got the part, he was just glad to have a job. RENT was originally scheduled for a 10-show run, but after repeatedly sold-out performances, it moved to Broadway and enjoyed one of the longest runs in the history of the Great White Way.
Now Pascal’s back in the role for which he’s famous, touring in a production which comes to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center July 7-12. But more than a few things have changed for the actor. He’s been in movies like SLC Punk! and School of Rock. He played Radames in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida. He cranked out a few rock albums of his own. Oh, and he got married, had two kids, and moved to L.A. It’s quite a laundry list of accomplishments, but it made me wonder one thing: What the hell does Adam Pascal have in common with Roger Davis anymore? After all, he first played Roger more than a decade ago and the times, as they say, are a ‘changing. Isn’t he getting a little old for this role? That was my first question in our phone interview last Friday.
See what Pascal had to say about his time in the show, how RENT is like Nirvana and more after the break:
CL: How much longer do you think you’ll be able to play Roger? You first played the role more than a decade ago, and since then you’ve gotten married, had kids, been in a few movies and produced a couple albums — that’s a far cry from a struggling artist in NYC’s East Village.
AP: (laugh) Yeah, I think that’s why we’re doing this, you know? I can pretty confidently say that this is going to be our last endeavor with the show in any kind of extended run. We wanted to come back to the stage, to bring the show to the audiences who never made it to Broadway, to theaters all around the country, for one last run. [The "we" to whom Pascal refers includes himself and Anthony Rapp, who played Mark Cohen in the original run and the film version, and joins him in the current touring show.]
CL: When the show moved to the big screen, it brought RENT to a new generation — kids who aren’t as familiar with the devastation of AIDS or pre-Giuliani NYC. Do you think RENT still has the impact and relatability of its opening run?
AP: Well, what we’ve come to learn over the years is that the “relatability” so to speak, isn’t really about the specific issues the characters deal with, it’s about the broader message of the show. Like La Boheme, which the show is based on, the emotional impact is not lost on the audience, even though people don’t get tuberculosis anymore. That they get AIDS (in RENT) is incidental; it’s how the characters support each other, how they care about each other and love each other that’s important. So even though people don’t get AIDS as much anymore, at least in this country, it continues to be relevant.
CL: Do you think that RENT has the same impact on screen as it does onstage? And on a similar note, do you find it ironic that a show about young artists living on society’s fringes has become a marketing tool?
AP: Yeah, it’s absolutely bizarre. It’s like, you can use the analogy of when Nirvana became so popular. Grunge was anti-establishment and everything they were doing was to combat that, and everything they were writing music about, and then they became huge. But I was thrilled with the success [of the Broadway run and the movie]. I mean, maybe before we started I was worried about maintaining its integrity, but we realized once we got there that the show belonged on Broadway.
CL: Since you came from a rock background, was it difficult to acclimate to the culture of musicals and Broadway? Or was your previous experience an inspiration for playing the role of a punk rocker hoping to create one memorable song?
AP: It felt comfortable from day one, more comfortable than a rock band. I felt like it was something I was meant to do and I never had a problem doing it. Yeah, I think my background made me feel comfortable in that role, and now because I’ve been doing it so long and I’m comfortable playing that part, vocally I’ve become synonymous with that role. It helped establish me.
CL: In a 1998 interview for outpatient.com, you said that when you landed the role of Roger, you “weren’t jumping for joy” because the show wasn’t the phenomenon it’s become. When did you realize just how big the show had become?
AP: I think when we moved to Broadway, we knew it would be really special and it was gonna last. I mean, we knew it was special already, but that’s when we knew we could quit our day jobs.