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Memphis - Broadway

A new musical about the birth of rock 'n' roll in the turbulent 1950s.

Adam Pascal Reflects on Rent, Memphis and the Roles in Between

Adam Pascal Reflects on Rent, Memphis and the Roles in Between
Adam Pascal
Adam Pascal revels in the comic opportunities of 'Memphis.'

When your first professional job becomes a career-defining smash hit, where do you go from there? In the case of Adam Pascal, who created the role of Roger in Rent at age 25, the answer has been an adventurous mix of musicals that take advantage of his distinctive bluesy voice and magnetic stage presence. Now giving an utterly charming star turn as deejay Huey Calhoun in Memphis, Pascal recently reflected on six favorite characters—including, of course, the most romantic rocker on Avenue B.

Role I Was Funniest In
“Huey [in Memphis] is the first role that has allowed me to show the comic side of my personality. It’s actually something that comes naturally to me, because I come from a really funny family. My parents, my grandparents: Everybody is funny. That’s part of how I won my wife over—by making her laugh. Frankly, I didn’t know at first how my Huey was going to come across. Huey is funny in a non-intentional way, and I just try to find the natural humor that comes out of the situation. I don’t play the role for laughs, so it feels great that audiences are enjoying it. I also love the fact that I can disappear a little bit physically in this role. Huey moves differently from me, he has different mannerisms, and I find that really appealing. This is definitely the most fun I’ve had in a show.”

Role That Was Most Like Me
“There is something about Radames in Aida [2000]—a moral and heroic quality—that I would hope I possess. He was a leader in the Egyptian army, and I think those qualities were innately a part of him, but they were suppressed because of his upbringing. Upon meeting Aida, his sense of morality and justice and equality were brought to the forefront. I had the good fortune to work with two incredible leading ladies, Heather Headley [Aida] and Sherie Rene Scott [Amneris]—extraordinary talents, extraordinary beauties, and really good friends. Part of the reason that show became successful was because the three of us had such chemistry. I could say the same thing about every show I’ve done.”

Role That Was the Hardest
“Definitely the Emcee [in Cabaret, 2003]: I pursued that part for years because there was something about it that intrigued me, but it also scared the hell out of me. I didn’t know if I would be able to pull it off. First of all, you’re so physically exposed. He’s half naked throughout the show, and he comes out at the top of act two and basically does a 10-minute improv with the audience. Pulling that off, making it feel natural night after night, was the hugest boost of confidence to me as a performer. Doing that show was like years and years of acting school in 16 weeks, and succeeding at it meant more to me than anything I had done prior to that.”

Role I Wish More People Had Seen
“I loved doing the concerts of Chess [2008, as American champ Freddie Trumper]. It has one of the best scores ever written for musical theater, but the book hasn’t been developed in a way that really engages an audience. People are used to big personalities within the confines of sports or celebrity movies, but chess players as celebrities? That doesn’t make sense to people. I only recently have become a chess player, and I love the game, but when I did the show I didn’t play chess and neither did Josh [Groban, as Russian champion Anatoly]. There were a couple of moments when we’re supposed to be moving pieces around the board, and neither of us knew what we were doing! Tim Rice keeps working on the book of Chess, and I hope he succeeds because it's a show that deserves a successful run.”

Role That Was Small But Sweet
School of Rock [2003] with Jack Black was definitely small but sweet. I got to sing and perform in the movie and on the soundtrack, although you wouldn’t know it because they didn’t credit me. It was one of the highlights of my career because I got the experience of working on film as a singer in a rock band, which I had been doing for so many years of my youth. Jack Black was an amazing guy to work with. I loved the whole experience. And my kids love it.”

Role I'd Like to Be Remembered For
Rent [1996] is the role I’m going to be remembered for, at least at this point in my career, and I’m honored to be connected to it. Jonathan [Larson, the show’s late composer] never said specifically why he cast me, and neither did Michael [Greif, the director]. I just think they saw something raw in me that they felt was appropriate for the character. Roger is a young, aspiring musician who longs to leave his mark on the world, and I had the exact same desire at that point in my life. To be honest, as I got older, the part got easier and more fun to do because I was able to find more nuances. I certainly am a much more experienced actor now. Anthony [Rapp, the original Mark] and I joke that Rent is the show that keeps on giving. There was a huge demand for us to come back [in 2007]. We felt honored that that was the case, so we said, ‘If we still look somewhat age-appropriate, we might as well do it together one last time.’ I hope to create memorable roles in the future, but I don’t know if anything will have the impact that Rent has had in musical theater.”

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