Performing Arts

How a pioneer of the musical ‘Rent’ still does it after two decades

Adam Pascal
Adam Pascal

Adam Pascal has been performing on stage for more than two decades. But he says he’s in better shape now, except for a few aches and pains.

“I’m better, stronger, and faster now,” he said. “My voice is much better, and in much better condition than it ever was.” But ... “my body is definitely more beaten up.”

Best known for his leading roles in “Rent,” both on stage and on screen, “Aida” and “Cabaret”, the 48-year-old Pascal is now heading to Fort Lauderdale for a show on Sunday.

At the Parker Playhouse, he’ll perform his best-known work, along with some surprises, alongside SiriusXM host and Broadway commentator Seth Rudetsky, who in the past couple years has appeared in Fort Lauderdale with stage stars including Matthew Morrison of “Glee” and Jesse Mueuller of “Beautiful” and “Waitress.”

We spoke with Pascal about his experience on stage, reuniting with his cast mates at the January performance of “Rent: Live” on FOX, and what audiences can expect to see at his upcoming Broward show.

Seth Rudetsky. Miami

Q: You’ve worked with Seth Rudetsky before on “Disaster,” a state musical parody of disaster moves. How is working with him this time going to be different?

A: Seth and I have been doing these live shows for a number of years, so I’ve been working with him doing this kind of stuff before I ever did “Disaster” with him. It’s sort of like inside the actor’s studio, but interspersed with songs. Seth brings his amazing wit and charm and humor, and hopefully I bring some song. We talk about my career, our friendship, and things that have happened to the two of us over the years, and it’s just a really fun evening.

Q: Is it more demanding since things aren’t laid out in a script?

A: It’s a little more demanding. It’s very much off the cuff. Our conversations are not scripted, and the songs we do, at this point they’re very polished because we’ve been doing them together for a long time. We kind of just show up and we’ll run through all the songs at sound check, and we just do it. It’s very improvisational.

Q: You recently appeared in “Pretty Woman: The Musical.” When you step into a role, from where do you draw your inspiration?

A: Any time you step into a role, the core of it is already there. I don’t take on a role unless I watch it and go “Oh, OK, I think I can do this.”

Q: Does performing a role get easier with more experience and stage time?

A: It gets easier. The more you do anything, the better you get at it. The more shows you do, the more natural being on stage in a musical becomes. I’ve always felt very comfortable in that genre of entertainment. That’s why I’ve stayed there all of these years. Because it’s always felt the most natural to me.

Q: You’ve done some film work, too, including reprising the role of Roger in “Rent.” Do you do anything different to prepare for a movie role?

A: I didn’t really know what to prepare, because I didn’t know how it was going to go. What we did on the stage is pretty much exactly what we did on camera. You have to make adjustments for lighting, for blocking, and for physical context, but the interactions between us as actors was the same as it was onstage.

Q: How was it different singing in the movie versus onstage?

A: In the old days when they made musical movies, everyone would just lip sync, and people finally realized that it looked phony. So now what you do, at least if you do it properly, is go to a recording studio and you record it, and when you’re singing, you play back the recording but the actors also sing along with the recording.

Adam Pascal and Daphne Rubin-Vega in “Rent” on Broadwayin 1996. Miami Herald File

Q: How does it feel to be linked to such a widely loved show with an important message like “Rent”?

A: I’m honored. How could you not be? I grew up playing in bands, and I thought my dream was to have a successful rock band and be part of something that was bigger than me. I never expected it to happen in the way that it happened. It’s that much better because of that. It’s such a surprise.

Q: So you have a little bit of Roger in you?

A: I certainly do.

Q: Do you keep in touch with the “Rent” cast or was “Rent: Live” like a high school reunion?

A: Both. I keep in touch with some people, and it was very much like a high school reunion. But a group of friends from high school that just loved each other, and just hadn’t seen each other in so long. It really was a wonderful reunion for all of us.

Q: How did you feel seeing a new generation take on the musical?

A: I love it. Talk about coming full circle. I have a 17-year-old son. He’s almost old enough to play Roger. It continues because people continue to fall in love with it, and fall in love with the music. That’s a testament to its longevity.

Q: What’s the difference between performing as a 20-something-year-old and a 40-something-year-old, both physically and mentally?

A: I would say that I’m better, stronger, and faster now. From experience, and knowing how to take care of myself and do eight shows a week. And knowing what I need to do, and the kind of shape that I need to be in. My voice is much better, and in much better condition than it ever was. I have some injuries now from my years doing theater, so my body is definitely more beaten up. I have a knee problem, and a shoulder problem, and a back problem, and a neck problem. Any one who has had longevity in this career will have some injuries. It’s part of the job.

Q: What can audiences expect to see at your upcoming Fort Lauderdale show?

A: I think it’s going to be, in many ways, a retrospective of all the shows that I’ve been in. And a few surprise songs. But for the most part, it’s going to be “Aida” and “Rent” and “Cabaret” and “Chicago” and “Memphis” and “Disaster.” It’s going to be all that.

Q: Do you have a favorite song to sing at this kind of show?

A: “Pity the Child” from “Chess” is always a big crowd pleaser. That’s always one of my favorites. I love that song.

Q: What’s next after Fort Lauderdale?

A: I may do some more “Pretty Woman,” but otherwise nothing on the immediate horizon.

If you go

What: Adam Pascal With Seth Rudetsky

Where: The Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, March 24

Tickets: $37-$67