Broadway star graces Theatre Cedar Rapids for 'Rent'

Anthony Rapp, who originated the lead role of Mark in
Anthony Rapp, who originated the lead role of Mark in "Rent" on Broadway and in the movie, joins the cast onstage at Theatre Cedar Rapids for a "talk back" with the audience after Saturday night's performance. (Rob Merritt/Theatre Cedar Rapids photo)

“He’s just a guy. That’s my mantra.”

“Rent” artistic director Leslie Charipar kept telling herself that Saturday (7/24/2010) before the curtain rose on a historic night at Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third. St. SE.

Anthony Rapp, the actor who originated the leading role of budding filmmaker Mark in “Rent” off-Broadway, on Broadway, in the movie and on the rock opera’s 2009 national tour, came to Cedar Rapids to see the community theater’s production.

He was suitably impressed.

“Thank you guys, for a performance with so much heart, grace, humor and spirit,” he told the cast, as he joined them onstage for a “talk back” with the audience following the show.

“To be able to restore this theater shows the community’s commitment to the arts — and this theater is amazing,” said Rapp, 38, a Chicago-area native now living in New York. “We had a community theater in Joliet and it wasn’t like this!”

Charipar and music director Janelle Lauer extended the invitation when they met Rapp backstage after a November performance at the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines. As the time drew closer for the Theatre Cedar Rapids production, they reiterated that invitation through Catherine Blades, a Cedar Rapids native who moved to New York last year to appear in the Broadway revival of “Bye Bye Birdie.”

“Rent” continues at Theatre Cedar Rapids through July 31, 2010. For details, go to

(Rob Merritt/Theatre Cedar Rapids) Anthony Rapp (center) talks backstage Saturday, July 24, 2010 at Theatre Cedar Rapids with Steve Goedken (left) who plays Mark, the character Rapp originated on Broadway, and Cedar Rapids native Catherine Blades, a TCR veteran who made her Broadway debut last fall in "Bye Bye Birdie."

In one of those surreal “small world” situations, Blades’ boyfriend is Rapp’s boyfriend’s brother. So Rapp, knowing of the hardships endured by the city and the theater after the 2008 flood, said yes to the invitation. TCR paid for his airfare, arranged for a hotel room and reserved tickets for some good seats before Saturday’s performance sold out.

(Rapp also has another Eastern Iowa connection: his brother, playwright and filmmaker Adam Rapp, graduated from Clarke College in Dubuque.)

Even though pre-show jitters made Charipar feel “a little like I wanna throw up,” she quickly said having Rapp in the audience was “an honor.”

“It makes tonight special. I won’t tell the cast to do anything differently,” Charipar, 43, of Cedar Rapids, said during a pre-show interview in the theater’s Linge Lounge. “Of course, I want his approval. I’ll be seeing the show with different eyes.”

“There’s never been anything like this in the history of Theatre Cedar Rapids,” Lauer said prior to the performance. “It’s pretty monumental for TCR — to be able to show him our incredibly talented people in Iowa. We’re incredibly proud. …

“I couldn’t get to sleep last night.” Lauer, 40, of Cedar Rapids said. “It feels like opening night again.”

The excitement that rippled through the cast and crew burst through in what Charipar afterward called “probably their best show. They usually have fun together, but it seemed like they were having the time of their lives.

“I told them to look at this just like any other show, but don’t let this moment go by.”

The moment wasn’t lost on Steve Goedken, 21, of Cedar Rapids, who plays Mark in the TCR version.

“I tried to convince myself he was just another guy who happened to know all the words to the show,” Goedken said afterward. “It was a little bit different knowing he was there.”

While Goedken said he wasn’t nervous, he wanted his portrayal of Mark to ”come off as unique.”

In an homage to Rapp, however, Goedken emulated Rapp’s trademark of holding the opening syllable of “La” in “La Vie Boheme” as long as possible, pointing toward Rapp in the audience as the cast launched into the jubilant Act I finale.

During the talk back, Rapp graciously answered questions ranging from how he got started with the show (through a staged workshop reading in New York) to what it was like for the cast when the show’s creator, Jonathan Larson, 35, died of an aortic aneurysm after the final off-Broadway dress rehearsal.

Rapp was open and candid and personal, then mingled with the cast and crew afterward at Zins restaurant, signing autographs and posing for photos. And from Facebook accounts, it sounds like he even played a little poker at an after-after party.

La vie boheme!

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