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'Rent' Control

February 5, 2009 By:
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Adam Pascal Photos by Joan Marcus
Adam Pascal is high-"Rent" district dynamic.

Roger out, Roger back in: Pascal is reprising his Tony Award-nominated role as Roger Davis, the young, guitar-strumming AIDS patient impatient with progress, in a national tour of the acclaimed, idiosyncratic and iconoclastic Tony Award-winning musical, now through this weekend at the Academy of Music.

Despite all the hoopla surrounding his rocking career -- which includes the recent release of a rock album -- Pascal, he concedes, hasn't changed all that much since "Rent" first raged on Broadway for a 12-year run that ended last year. Indeed, the one-time cute, cuddly 13-year-old who gave out Iron Maiden T-shirts as Bar Mitzvah favors, still favors the heavy-metal group, wearing an Iron Maiden T as we talk of his maiden voyage to Philadelphia.

But then, Pascal's much proven his mettle since those days of wine and rose bouquets at his religious rite of passage. Broadway has been Pascal's bimah ever since, with "Rent" and his highly regarded turn as Radames in "Aida" putting him in the eye of the public for eons.

Indeed, it's been seven years since the "Scene" last saw him and sensed that Pascal was perfect for the pyramid power that was "Aida," an eyeful of theatrics that met with success much as its operatic rendition had at the Met farther uptown from the theater where it played for years.

Glad to see that Pascal escaped interment at musical's end, entombed alive by the pharaoh for his far-flung philandering as Aida's illicit inamorata. Now that he's no longer trapped in the tomb of the well-known Broadway soldier, how is "la vie d'Adam"?

Admittedly, "things are very good; really great."

Easy to see why. Pascal's been master of his domain since being master of ceremonies at run's end of the critically hailed "Cabaret" just a few years back on Broadway. There have been the albums -- "Blinding Light" was no flash in the pan but a truly scintillating score -- and a new collaborative effort with composer Larry Edoff as the dueling duo Me and Larry; as well as TV work, the film version of "Rent," his role as producer of the off-Broadway smash "Fully Committed" and a full commitment to reserving his best table talk for his two boys and gorgeous chef/author wife.

"I've grown up," says the boyishly blondish blinding light of talent at the tail end of his 30s, who welcomes the chance to revisit Roger and enrich the role "because, hopefully, over the years, I've become a better performer."

Not that he has to rethink Roger.

"I know the [role] as much as I know anything in my life," he muses on the musical character he crafted off-Broadway and on, and then in film before reprising him at run's end last year and now on tour.

He knows his stuff; Pascal's got "Rent" control. "It's like muscle memory."

No need for Nautilus; been there, exercised that. Pascal laughs at the memory of sticking with his job as a fitness trainer even as he took Roger for a workout on stage on Broadway.

What has worked out even better is his self-image; the performer who once hesitated being hedged in as a Broadway star -- fearing it would force his rock career to roll off the edge -- now bids "wilkommen" to the warmth that comes with musicals and matinees.

"Fear of being 'The Broadway Guy'? That was a feeling I once had but don't anymore. I'm proud to be thought of as 'The Broadway Guy.' "

He's doing it his way: "I've embraced my 'Rent' experience so much more; I'm only positive about it."

The HIV-positive character he portrays has come of age as has the man who plays him. Where once he doubted himself as an actor, Pascal sees the two aspects of musician and actor accommodated in one persona. "I made a conscious effort to get better," says Pascal.

A pineapple for you ... not to mention critical acclaim: It was "Cabaret," in which he mastered the role of the androgynous master of ceremonies that left unambiguous his ambitious pursuit.

"Cabaret," claims Pascal, "took me to another level of performance. I am the most proud of myself at having done that show."

It shows; his is not the peacock proud of a preening, prancing performer preoccupied with image; it is a pride of lions, a roar of self-knowledge that comes with growth and gratitude.

Of course, there are those bio bulges that are more Borscht Belt than Broadway. Such was his starring role as Bobby Star, the star-crossed crooner of "Goyband," whose hope for a gig almost gagged him with a mouthful of chopped liver.

When Bobby's booked for what appears as a gag of a gig at Mazel Hotel -- "the world's first glatt-kosher casino-hotel" -- he does his guitar thing amid the geezers: Bobby bobs amid the bubbies and zaydes in this most unorthodox film of phalacteries and frenzied eating of Catskills roadkill.

"Schmutz Dancing"?

"It was a lot of fun," he laughs of his Jewish journey from "Broadway Guy" to "Goyband."

Indeed, it must have been for audiences, too, since it premiered to high-fives amid its high jinks of a tale at last year's Jerusalem Film Festival.

Did Pascal bond with "Goyband"?

"I had a special feeling for it, yes; I know all those characters -- they were people in my family," says the proudly Jewish performer.

"I spent a lot of time at Kutscher's and at the Concord in the Catskills, and shooting there brought it all back to me," relays Pascal of a childhood where his yen for Yiddishkeit and cabanas was accommodated.

Now that he's checked out of the Catskills comic scene, next move: "Chess"?

After a successful concert version at the Royal Albert Hall in London in the revised Tim Rice musical opposite Idina Menzel, his old "Rent" mate, and singer Josh Groban, the show is headed for a PBS airing.

But then, such a Broadway-style broadcast does not make much air waves in the world of his children. Yet mention "The Backyardigans" and, well, you've hit paydirt in their own backyard: Their Dad appeared in the TV series and sang on it as well.

"That has more airplay in my house than anything else," chuckles Pascal.

Now that his career is in such good shape, are there any regrets that Pascal left those days as a physical trainer behind?

He laughs and offers some ship-shape suggestions, appropriately repeating his mantra: "Never hire a trainer whose interest is in something else!"

Like being the rockin' Broadway Guy?

Hit the mat, Roger, and give us five.

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