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Anthony Rapp prefers his characters complex

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Anthony Rapp is not one for simple characters in his stage or screen roles.

Though best-known as the original Mark Cohen in "Rent," for which he won an Obie Award in 1996, Rapp is drawn to emotionally broad and complex characters, and he even has a taste for "playing really twisted or dark characters." Even the titular role in the revival of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" on Broadway during 1999 gave Rapp plenty of range to explore.

And that's certainly true of Lucas, the passionate community organizer of "If/Then" that Rapp originated in 2013 in Washington, D.C., took to Broadway and is now playing in the touring company of the Tony Award-nominated musical.

"I always try to find the truth of the material, the truth of the moment," the Illinois-born Rapp, 44, says by phone from an "If/Then" tour stop in St. Louis. "I don't condescend to the characters I play. I try to find the humanity in them. And I don't try to fall into the trap of trying ot make them likable if they do despicable things.

"I just try to be honest and find the truth, find the honestly of what's being presented. That's what I try to bring to all these parts."

The "If/Then" role was actually written specifically for Rapp by playwright/lyricist Brian Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt. His Lucas -- for which he won a Broadway.com Audience Award for Favorite Featured Actor in a Musical -- is part of a trio that includes Elizabeth Vaughan, an urban planner who moves to New York after a divorce, and kindergarten teacher Kate. The show depicts the two paths Elizabeth's life could take -- one known as Liz, the other as Beth -- with different roles in those lives for Lucas, including a romantic involvement with Beth in that segment.

"What we've always said about the two lives, the two story lines, is it's the same soul of the character, but our lives shape us," Rapp explains. "It's not the end-all, be-all of who we are, but they make an impact.

"So it's been really cool to explore the nature of that on such a glandular level wtih this character and these lives. There are very, very different outcomes in both of the storylines for Lucas, so I feel like I get to eat a pretty full meal every night."

And because Lucas was written specifically for him, Rapp got some insight into himself -- and into how others perceive him.

"There are certainly things that are pretty directly resonant for me," he acknowledges. "I tend to be pretty idealistic and passionate about the things I believe in. I feel like I'm less so as I've gotten older and mellower, but certainly when I was younger I was a lot more self-righteous about things and less forgiving of other people's points of view. So I could identify with that aspect of Lucas."

Despite that, however, Rapp still finds the role "a very compassionately drawn exploration of someone who, because of his sort of stringent ideals, has not always exposed himself or availed himself of romance and therefore has gotten a little lonely in his life. I think both the Beth life and the Liz life are really interesting and honest portrayals of somebody who, given the opportunity for romance, looks in the wrong place for it sometimes, and then when he finds it doesn't know how to embrace it fully."

Though "If/Then" has dominated his creative schedule for the better part of the past two years, Rapp has done other work as well. He has roles in three independent films -- "Opening Night," "Modern Love" and "Dreamland" -- all due out this year. And he's looking at doing more with "Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent," a one-man stage show based on his 2006 autobiography.

As a bona fide A-lister, Rapp could probably have moved from "If/Then" to another Broadway production as well. But he felt so committed to the project that he didn't hesitate when asked to play Lucas on the road.

"I feel a tremendous amount of loyalty to Tom and Brian, who wrote this part for me," Rapp says. "I do like touring. I wouldn't want to only tour; I like to live in New York and do other projects. But it is a nice way to work and do travel.

"And I do believe in this piece. I"m glad to share this piece with the country. So many people obviously can't get to New York to see things, especially new works. So to have a first-class production come to your city of a new work is, I think, a really special thing, and I'm happy to be part of that."

"If/Then: A New Musical"

March 29-April 10.

The Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit.

Tickets are $35-$125.

Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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