Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Without You
Curran Theatre
Review by Patrick Thomas

Anthony Rapp
Photo by Russ Rowland
How can a performance that made me feel so sad, now occupy a very warm place in my heart? Maybe it's because in Without You tonight, Anthony Rapp showed the audience assembled at the Curran Theatre just how true is the description (from neighboring theatre company, San Francisco Playhouse) of theatre as an "empathy gym." Through the tale of his getting his big break in the business (landing a part in the first company of Rent only to have writer Jonathan Larson die the night before the show opened Off-Broadway) and remembrances of his mother, Rapp seemed to reach into the heart of each member of his audience and wring out some treasured, perhaps even long-buried memories, all as a way of saying: this is something we all share–this grief, this suffering, this striving to be genuinely oneself. "The only way out, is through," he tell us, offering wisdom he in turn received (from Cy O'Neal, who co-founded Friends In Deed during the depths of the AIDS crisis.)

Theatre serves as a safe space to experience these kind of emotions. We can empathize with the characters on stage and even allow ourselves to feel what they are portraying in each moment. With the best live theatre, that empathy is a two-way street: those on stage seem to find a way to sense the audience's emotional state and use that sensation to inform their performance.

So it is with Anthony Rapp's performance. As he tells his tale, over the course of about 85 minutes, he not only takes us back to 1994 and the first workshop of Rent, then to its Broadway opening, and onward into his mother's battles with cancer, it seemed Rapp had found a way to make each of us in the audience feel something deep and personal.

By now I should probably be doing some of the critical stuff–talking about the taut five-piece band (led by Daniel A. Weiss), or the imagery (by David Bengali) projected on a screen upstage, or the rock show lighting (Eric Southern), or even that Rapp doesn't have a stellar voice or perfect pitch. But that doesn't seem terribly important in this moment. Because as Maya Angelou said: "people will never forget how you made them feel."

So when I heard Rapp tell of his mother's suffering–brave and graceful and stoically midwestern–it raised memories of my own mother's passing that caused tears to wet my cheeks. I could hear audible sobs from the woman in the seat behind me, and quiet sniffling throughout the Curran.

It's not all tears, though. Rapp takes us inside the early days of Rent: the song the cast learned first ("Seasons of Love"), his first encounters with the saucy Daphne Rubin-Vega, and sharing reviews with his mother. He recalls when Jonathan Larson, not long before his sudden passing, told him, "You are going to bring my friends to life - and I want to thank you for that."

By the time those 85 minutes (a very small portion of 525,600) are over, you might want to thank Anthony Rapp for bringing his experiences to life in a way that just might illuminate a part of you to which you hadn't been paying attention, or–better yet–remind you that you're not alone in whatever grief you happen to be carrying.

Without You runs through October 22, 2023, at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $49-$160. For tickets and information, please visit or the Curran box office.