Tony Award nominee Adam Pascal, one of the finest pop/rock voices in contemporary musical theatre who garnered acclaim in Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking 1996 Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Rent,” will perform a special acoustic concert Wednesday, Dec. 2 at Wright State University.
Presented by WSU’s Musical Theatre Initiative, Pascal’s visit marks a yearlong celebration of contemporary musical theatre entitled “Musicals Rock!” The Musical Theatre Initiative is an international center at Wright State that celebrates and explores the history, culture and craft of the musical theatre through workshops, conferences and performances.
“This yearlong program, called Musicals Rock!, will immerse students and audiences in the entire world of Broadway pop and rock musicals,” said Joe Deer, distinguished professor of musical theatre and Musical Theatre Initiative director. “This is the sound and style of the new Broadway. And we’re preparing our students to enter that world professionally.”
Pascal, 45, is a Bronx native raised in Syosset, New York. In addition to “Rent,” he has appeared on Broadway in “Aida,” “Memphis” and “Chicago.” He also co-produced the hit off-Broadway play “Fully Committed” with fellow “Rent” alum Jesse L. Martin. His latest CD entitled “Blinding Light” is currently in release. His upcoming film projects include “Punk’s Dead” and “The Devil’s Carnival Alleluia.”
In advance of his appearance, Pascal discussed his journey thus far and what he plans to share at Wright State.
Q: Has music always been a part of your life? Who are your musical influences? Did you enjoy musicals growing up?
A: I’ve always loved the Beatles, Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Queen, and Journey. I’ve always loved male singers with big powerful voices. I grew up playing in rock bands throughout New York City. I actually grew up with Idina Menzel. I’m also a huge fan of movie musicals like ‘Hair,’ ‘Tommy’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ I devoured those movies. I loved those movies so much and they had a huge impact on me. After Idina got cast in ‘Rent’ she reached out to me and told me they were opening up the casting of Roger to people who didn’t necessarily have prior theater experience. She said all I had to do was show up with a guitar and sing. The idea of going in and auditioning for something was intriguing. I hadn’t done that before. I had never considered a career in musical theatre. It didn’t occur to me that was something I could pursue. I was so focused on playing in rock bands that nothing else had ever occurred to me what I could do with my voice. Rock music was my passion and I never veered off that course.
Q: Can you explain how it felt to portray Roger Davis in your Broadway debut?
A: Honestly, when I got cast in ‘Rent,’ the show wasn’t the ‘Rent’ it ultimately became. When I was cast off-Broadway in the show it was just a 10-week run of an unknown entity. So, I was certainly excited to be a part of the show, but I wasn’t under the assumption I had been cast in the biggest musical in 20 years. My first thought was how I was actually going to keep my job while rehearsing at night! After my first audition I was given a cassette recording from casting of Jonathan Larson singing ‘One Song Glory.’ I was asked to go home and learn it and come back and sing it. I didn’t know anything about ‘Rent’ or Roger as a character. I must admit it wasn’t a magic moment by any means when I heard the song as if to say it was meant just for me. But ‘Rent’ will always be a major part of my life and career.
Q: You are one of the rare performers to be able to reprise their role on screen. How was the experience?
A: To be able to reprise my role was such a gift. I am so indebted to director Chris Columbus for fighting for us because it rarely happens that an original cast reprises their roles on screen. Chris wanted to maintain that connection to Jonathan Larson and his way to do that was to have us in the movie. We were the people Jonathan chose to embody those characters and in order to honor that Chris put us on screen. It’s great to have had ‘Rent’ be my starting ground which allowed me to go on and grow to do other things. It’s actually taken me 20 years to grow into the actor everyone thought I was when I debuted in ‘Rent.’
Q: In 2000, you portrayed Radames in Elton John and Tim Rice’s ‘Aida.’ What was it like working with Elton John?
A: Elton John has always been one of my idols. With ‘Aida,’ I feel I was just in the right place at the right time. ‘Rent’ opened up the door to a lot of pop/rock musicals. Getting to work with Elton was such a dream come true, but honestly, Elton is not the kind of composer who is involved with the rehearsal process. He writes the songs, sends them to the creative team, and then finds out weeks later what works or doesn’t work. And in retrospect, that’s the way it needs to be with Elton. But I also did a very early workshop of ‘Tarzan’ with music by Phil Collins who was the exact opposite of Elton. Phil was always in the room and very much involved in the creative process. It was really interesting to see somebody who arguably is more of a pop/rock icon come to musical theater from the opposite end of the spectrum.
Q: In 2006, you starred as Freddie Trumper opposite Idina Menzel and Josh Groban in a special concert version of the musical ‘Chess’ (available on CD and DVD) written by Tim Rice and members of ABBA. ‘Chess’ certainly has a cult following and your stellar rendition of “Pity the Child’ was an undeniable highlight. Have you always been a fan of the score?
A: The score for ‘Chess’ is definitely in my top three favorite scores of all time. The score is absolutely brilliant. The show unfortunately has a number of inherent problems with its book which has kept it from becoming the success the music would indicate it would have become. But the concert was magical. I’m so glad to have been a part of it and glad it was recorded.
Q: In January you’ll begin rehearsals as the romantic lead in Seth Rudetsky’s new musical “Disaster!” which opens in March at the Nederlander Theatre where ‘Rent’ played. Are you excited to return to Broadway? What can you reveal about the show?
A: ‘Disaster!’ is an all-out wacky comedy. I am friends with and love everyone in the cast. I did readings of it in New York and L.A. and laughed the whole time watching everyone’s performance. It’s a rare opportunity to be entertained so much by the show that you’re in and other people’s work. In the show some of my numbers include ‘Alone Again (Naturally),’ ‘I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,’ ‘Baby Hold On,’ and ‘Three Times a Lady.’ It’s going to be very special to perform on the stage of the Nederlander again. ‘Disaster!,’ in a way, came to me out of nowhere and now it’s headed to Broadway. I’m probably going to be back in my old dressing room literally 20 years from the day ‘Rent’ opened on Broadway. I’m glad I can sort of represent the ‘Rent’ family and be there in that space on our 20th anniversary.
Q: During your upcoming workshops at Wright State what do you hope to convey or what words of advice are you preparing?
A: I like to be very practical. I’ll be sharing thoughts on auditioning and also sharing opinion and feedback on what the students are working on or helping them select different songs. I also plan to impart any wisdom I have on what it’s like to have a long career in musical theatre. And not necessarily how fun it is but how difficult it is. There are difficulties you face when trying to maintain a sense of joy and sanity in a business that is extremely difficult and painful. I want to stress the reality of what they’re trying to get into.
Q: What do you plan to perform during your acoustic set?
A: I’ll be doing original songs, rearranged versions of Broadway material and covers of pop/rock songs. It’s an eclectic mix of the three.
Q: What do you hope for the future of American musical theatre?
A: I hope it continues to flourish by inviting new and younger audiences, people that will sort of grow up and grow old being fans of musical theatre. I would also like to see musical theatre return to original content instead of existing commodities like movies and books. Original shows are always inspiring because the source material was created specifically for the stage.
Adam Pascal will perform Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. inside the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn. Tickets are $5-$10. For tickets or more information, call WSU box office at (937) 775-2500 or visit www.wright.edu/tdmp. In addition, anyone wishing to attend Pascal’s workshops and interviews on campus Tuesday, Dec. 1, which are free and open to the public, must register for each event by contacting [email protected].