Rent alum Adam Pascal turns Renaissance man, playing a rockin’ Will Shakespeare in the musical-inventing-musical Something Rotten!


“Something Rotten!” runs April 17-22 at the Fox Theatre. Details, tickets HERE or at 855.285.8499.


‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.’

MALVOLIO, in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night


IF ANYONE EVER had greatness thrust upon him, it’s Adam Pascal.

In 1996, at age 26, he came out of nowhere to originate the role of musician Roger Davis in the singular Broadway musical Rent.

Mick Jagger? David Bowie? No, just Adam Pascal (center) as playwriting phenom and strutting rocker Will Shakespeare. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

A guitar-playing rocker, Pascal grew up in New York City but had never thought about musical theater nor auditioned for anything. But he knew Idina Menzel, who’d already been cast as Maureen. They’d been friends since third grade, and she knew Rent hadn’t yet found its Roger. The concept sounded cool to Pascal, so he brought his guitar and auditioned with U2’s “Red Hill Mining Town.”

Well, as you likely know, he got the gig. After a brief off-Broadway run, the musical moved to Broadway, where it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 1996 Tony Award for best new musical, and ran for 11 years.

Pascal suddenly had rock-star status. Girls screamed his name at the stage door, wanted to touch him and begged for his autograph.

“It was pretty wild,” he says. “It certainly took a while to realize that nothing else would ever live up to that level of success.” Pascal spent 18 months on Broadway, did Rent in London for six months, filmed the so-so 2005 movie and returned for Rent’s 2009 national tour.

20 years later …

Now 47, he’s crisscrossing the nation as the world’s biggest rock star of the ’90s — the 1590s. He plays a swaggering Will Shakespeare in the national tour of Something Rotten!, slipping into the leathers and tight breeches of Christian Borle, who won a Tony for the role.

Rob McClure as rival Nigel Bottom (left) and Adam Pascal as Shakespeare. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Pascal joined Something Rotten! for its final two months on Broadway and agreed to tour. He’s joined by Josh Grisetti and Rob McClure (as Nigel and Nick Bottom), who also did the show’s final months on Broadway,

Playing the famous scribe as a put-upon egomaniac doesn’t come with a lot of pressure, Pascal says. “My main job is to keep making it fun.”

Think David Bowie or Mick Jagger in a goofy Elizabethan getup with an oversized codpiece and knee-high boots. “The opportunity to disappear into a costume,” Pascal says, “is one of the things that most appeals to me about doing theater.”

People have said there’s a Bowie-esque quality to his performance, he says. If so, it wasn’t intentional. “I think there’s a bit of Stewie Griffin from ‘Family Guy’ in my Shakespeare.”

Pascal camps it up mirthfully in the number “It’s Hard to Be the Bard.” Backed by four manservants — sort of like Gladys Knight’s Pips — he sings:

“I make it look easy but honey, believe me /

It’s hard / It’s hard / It’s so incredibly hard /

So inconceivably, unbelievably hard /

It’s hard to be the bard!”

Something Rotten! follows the Bottom brothers, aspiring playwrights Nick and Nigel Bottom, who are obscured by Shakespeare’s dominating fame. When Nostradamus predicts that musicals will be the next big thing, they pounce on the chance to write the first one. In doing so, Something Rotten! doubles as a valentine to Broadway musicals, its score laced with bits of melody from familiar shows.

Something Rotten! “isn’t sappy and doesn’t have those other stereotypical characteristics — all those things that make people decide they don’t like musicals,” Pascal says. “I liken it to a combination of Mel Brooks and Monty Python.”

An L.A. guy now

Pascal grew up in and around Manhattan, but says he’d much rather be on tour than living there now. “It’s just a bit too much for me.” Being on tour “helps with the monotony of being away from my family, which is the hardest part.”

Anthony Rapp as Mark (left) and Adam Pascal as Roger in “Rent.” Photo: Joan Marcus

He’s called Los Angeles home for a dozen years. He and wife Cybele, married for almost 20 years, have sons who are 16 and 14. The oldest, like Dad, is a singer-guitarist. His wife runs Cybele’s Free to Eat, a gluten- and allergy-free foods company.

Pascal happily helps out when he’s home but says he also wants — and needs — to work. He’s uninterested in “playing that Hollywood game, going to endless auditions and all of that.” He’s also uninterested in doing stage work on the West Coast.

In recent years, he and buddy Anthony Rapp, Rent’s original Mark Cohen, developed a cabaret-type show they perform when possible. It includes Rent’s “What You Own,” a duet that showcases their harmonies.

Pascal’s post-Rent Broadway career has included leading roles in Aida and Memphis. In 2016, he did the flop painfully titled Disaster! — a sendup of 1970s’ disaster films with pop hits from the era. He once hoped to play the masked man in The Phantom of the Opera and auditioned but was not cast. He’d like to play Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, he says, adding, “The good news is I haven’t aged out of that role yet.”

For now, channeling Will Shakes as a raving narcissist suits him fine. If all the world’s a stage, he gets to strut on stages all across the country.

He also tap dances, something he’s never done before. Tapping can be a little irksome with a knee issue, so he pampers the joint as best he can in hotel gyms and spas.

It’s about taking care of himself. And about taking seriously the message of Something Rotten!: “To thine own self be true.”


About Julie Bookman

Julie Bookman has written about the arts, entertainment and literature as a freelance journalist and, coast to coast, on the staffs of three daily newspapers, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She has interviewed such legends as Isaac Bashevis Singer, Liberace, Mary Martin and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

View all posts by Julie Bookman