From Broadway to the Felt: Rent Star Anthony Rapp Discusses His Poker Roots
Back in 1996, an iconic show premiered on Broadway. Rent, which would win both a Pulitzer and Tony Award, was about "Bohemians in the East Village of New York City Struggling with life, love and AIDS, and the impacts they have on America." One of the play's characters was Mark Cohen, played both on stage and in the 2005 film adaptation by Anthony Rapp, who as fate would have it is a big fan of poker.
Born on Oct. 26, 1971 in Joliet, Illinois, Rapp has been acting since he was a child, winning numerous singing awards in junior high school and then performing on Broadway for the first time in 1981 in The Little Prince and the Aviator. Since then he has built a successful career on both Broadway and in film (you may remember him as Jacob in 2000's Road Trip).
So how did Rapp, who Metro Weekly has called "one of the first openly gay men on Broadway," come to find a game as intricate as poker?
"When I was a teenager, like 17 or so, I was spending time in LA looking for acting work, and via an actor friend who had a bunch of UCLA student friends, I started playing a weekly home game," Rapp tells PokerNews. "It was nickel-dime-quarter dealer's choice, mostly variations of stud and wild card games."
Nowadays, in between acting gigs, Rapp, as well as his brother and filmmaker Adam Rapp, finds time to play, which includes playing backstage from time to time, though nothing too serious.
"When I've played backstage on Broadway, it's really been small limit games," says Rapp. "Nothing too exciting really. I'm always glad when I have poker playing friends in a cast or on the crew, though."
In addition, Rapp hosts a small game of his own.
"I run a little $20 buy-in weekly tournament in New York City, which has averaged at least 25 people most weeks. Because of my recent performing schedule, I haven't been able to go to Atlantic City or Vegas for tournaments, which are my favorite way to play, as often as I'd like," says Rapp. "But If/Then, the show I'm currently in, is closing March 22, and I'll be playing lots more poker again. I really enjoy the deep-stack series at the Venetian in Vegas, and various World Series of Poker Circuit events. I prefer a deep, lengthy structure to a turbo structure."
The play Rapp references is an original musical, which reunites him with Rent director Michael Greif, about a woman named Elizabeth, played by Idina Menzel, who returns to NYC after a long unhappy marriage to start her life over. It then follows her on two possible paths her life could take from that moment, jumping between the two timelines. Rapp plays one of Elizabeth's longtime close friends.
"It becomes a very surprising and sometimes moving meditation on the nature of choice and chance," Rapp explains. "Something I think about a lot when at the poker table."
Obviously there has been a little overlap between his Broadway experience and poker playing, but are there any other similarities? After all, both require a great deal of focus, recognizing patterns, and stamina. It's something Rapp acknowledges, but doesn't lend much credence.
"I do think the focus and mental stamina required for acting have served me well at the table," Rapp says. "But I'm also someone who's always been able to be immersed in something I really enjoy doing."
Despite living in New York, Rapp has never played in any of the city's famed underground poker clubs. However, he did reveal that he had a friend who dealt at one, which at one point was held up at gunpoint. It was enough to turn Rapp off from underground games, like those immortalized in the cult classic Rounders. Surprisingly, it's a film Rapp has never watched.
"I know it's blasphemy, but I've never seen Rounders," Rapp admits. "I've always been afraid it would seem cheesy, and I have a very low tolerance for cheese. As over the top as the poker sequence in Casino Royale is, I did get a big kick out of it."
Even so, that wouldn't stop Rapp from getting involved with a poker project, be it either a film, television, or a poker-themed play.
"Sure, if it's good," Rapp responds when asked if he'd ever consider a poker-related project. "That's honestly my biggest criterion when I'm looking at a project: is it good? Does it approach its themes and plot and characters in an interesting, innovative, emotionally rich manner? Also, are good people involved? That's all what's most important to me."
Whether or not such a project presents itself remains to be seen, but in the meantime Rapp plans to keep himself busy on Broadway and by playing what little poker he can in his free time.
"We see closing If/Then at the end of March, when Idina goes on a world concert tour, and I'm looking forward to a bit of much-earned downtime," Rapp concludes. "I'll be seeing lots of baseball games and playing lots of poker. There are a couple of good artistic projects swirling, but I'm not sure when they will fully take shape. Looks like one of them will coalesce in the fall. We shall see."
For more on Rapp, pick up a copy of his 2006 autobiography Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent. You can also see him performing "You Don't Need to Love Me" from If/Then in this video.
*Lead photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures.