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Looking for a new lease on a career

Original `Rent' star Adam Pascal intends to make it back to Broadway his own way -- via Hollywood.

July 28, 2006|Irene Lacher | Special to The Times

Adam Pascal is about to see his life pass before his eyes --some of it anyway -- and he's in the fortunate position of being able to smile at the prospect. Around him, people are screaming in anticipation, screaming the way some people do when there's a rock star in the vicinity, although there are none around. There's just rock or, to be more precise, a rock musical.

The occasion is a recent performance of a touring company of "Rent" at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Pascal, who created the romantic lead of Roger, the musician, in the original Broadway version in 1996, hasn't seen the show onstage since he left the New York production 8 1/2 years ago. He watches intently, but he barely moves his body while the music pounds the theater. At intermission, a woman in the audience comes over to ask if it's hard to watch someone else belting out his impassioned songs.

"Being onstage was so long ago, it's not hard at all," he says. "It feels like another life."

Pascal's gig in "Rent," aided by a healthy dose of serendipity -- a childhood friend and fellow cast member, Idina Menzel, had suggested he audition -- changed his life path from aspiring rock star to Broadway musical lead, and he wasn't alone in experiencing the hit show's life-altering effects. During the intermission, a young woman with dark brown hair tumbling past her shoulders plops down in the empty seat next to Pascal to tell him so.

" 'Rent' is my being," Jacqueline Kerrigan, 25, says, trembling a bit as she leans toward the lanky performer to pose for a cellphone photo. " 'Rent' is the reason I'm an actor. I've loved 'Rent' my whole life."

And then the capper: "I met Spielberg, and I didn't blink an eye."

Show business is littered with the carcasses of stars who started at the top, only to find a big, fat nothing awaiting them after their heady debut. Pascal's fellow cast members have certainly grappled with the question of whether there's life after "Rent" with varying degrees of success.

After joining the short-lived London production, Pascal went on to headline in other long-running Broadway musicals -- Elton John's "Aida" and "Cabaret " -- and he recorded two albums of his own pop music on Sh-k-boom Records: "Model Prisoner" and "Civilian." He'll be performing selections along with new arrangements of Broadway tunes at the Brentwood Theatre today and Saturday

At 35, the still-boyish Pascal has hardly tumbled into his grave. But after all the adulation heaped on him for starring in the late Jonathan Larson's tragic tale of love and loss in New York's downtown bohemia, normal can be pretty tough to take. And when the film version fizzled last year, failing to help propel him toward his hoped-for next step -- a career in film and TV -- Pascal made good use of the void that followed.

"It was very tough, and through lots of therapy," he says with a self-conscious laugh, "I came to grips with the fact that it didn't do well. When that didn't pan out, I had to reevaluate everything."

Ultimately, he decided to steer a steady course. He's working on an album with collaborator Larry Edoff that infuses more of a musical theater sensibility into his pop material. And he moved from New York to Laurel Canyon this year with his playwright wife, Cybele, and their sons, Lennon Jay, 4 1/2 , and Montgomery Lovell, 2 1/2 (and yes, his older son is named after that Lennon).

In so doing, he's following in the footsteps of fellow original cast members -- Jesse L. Martin, a veteran of two prime-time TV hits, "Law & Order" and "Ally McBeal," and Taye Diggs, who costarred with Angela Bassett in the film "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" only two years after "Rent" opened. When Martin hit Hollywood, he never looked back, although Diggs went on to stints in "Chicago" and "Wicked."

For the New York-born Pascal, who appeared in "School of Rock" and an episode of "Cold Case," the ultimate destination is actually back to Broadway. "Rent" showed him that his smoky voice is too big for pop music and more suited to dramatic roles onstage. But this time, he'd like to return in an original vehicle written for him, which is paradoxically more likely if he can add "Hollywood star" to his theater credits. He says he's disillusioned with the offerings on the New York stage.

"I don't like what's going on in theater," Pascal says over a glass of Pinot Grigio before the show. "I haven't found anything I was interested in being a part of. Except for one or two people, I don't like the new young composers. I don't like the work they're doing. It just doesn't speak to me as a performer.

"And I don't like the whole movement of adapting movies to the stage, which is cheapening the possibilities of musical theater. It's the same thing as putting in a celebrity whether they're capable or not. Because there's name recognition, let's do it."

Pascal may still be recognized for a role he created a decade ago, but his musical theater triumph didn't hobble him with being typecast the way TV actors sometimes are when they're too closely identified with a character.

"It's much less limiting than other things because it does incorporate so many different aspects of performing -- singing, dancing, acting -- that people don't necessarily think you can't do something because you've been in musical theater," he observes. "They probably think you can."

*

Adam Pascal

Where: Brentwood Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood

When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday

Price: $35

Contact: (213) 365-3500

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