We live in an era of endless confounding questions, yet none are more important to fans of the stage than one I must pose to you today: Is it possible for millennial Theatre Geeks™ to grow up knowing nothing of the 1996 hit musical Rent? Before you answer with a confident “NO!!!!!!” and shame me for even asking such a thing, I’ll inform you that the answer, is sadly, YES. I know this is true because the star of Fox’s upcoming Rent Live, Vanessa Hudgens, had not heard of the show before she was cast in it the first time.
This upcoming Sunday, Hudgens will star as Maureen Johnson, one of the play’s leads, in her second production of the musical (Hudgens played Mimi Marquez at the Hollywood bowl in 2010), and ahead of that the actress gave a very telling interview to Playbill.com. In it she says that since being cast she’s yet to listen to or watch any performances by Idina Menzel, who played the original Maureen, because she wants to find her own voice as the character. Hudgens said, “Jonathan Larson’s whole thing was about finding his true, authentic voice as an artist, and that inspires me so much, so I’ve been trying to take the same approach in finding who Maureen is to me and making sure that is true.”
She adds, “[Maureen] is a drama queen, loud and proud and loves being the center of attention. And she is outspoken and unapologetic for it. I grew up doing musical theatre and part of the reason I loved it was, of course, the shows and the music, but it was really about being on the stage and being the center of attention. We fit hand-in-hand nicely.”
This is a wonderful sentiment, but not wonderful enough to distract me from the facts at hand. Just before this quote, Hudgens, the woman who “grew up doing musical theatre,” is outed as someone who had no knowledge of the show while growing up and simultaneously doing musical theatre. Playbill states the facts clearly. “In 2005, a film version of Rent hit movie theatres, and by then, the original Broadway soundtrack had gone platinum, with more than 1.2 million copies sold. Yet, Hudgens knew very little about the show and was only introduced to it in 2010 after receiving a call from Neil Patrick Harris, who hoped to cast her in a production he was directing at the Hollywood Bowl.”
In 2010, Vanessa was 22, and reaping the benefits of fame awarded to her from three High School Musical films. I am the same age as Hudgens, and by 2010 had seen the show both across the country and on Broadway, and I’d only left St. Louis, Missouri, a handful of times. This behavior simply would not fly in my high-school theatre program, and I’m sure it wouldn’t fly in yours. Personally, I feel as though it’s inexcusable. I will be considering legal action, and sending thank-you notes to every last one of my theatre teachers.
All I’ve left to say is buckle up for the day Vanessa Hudgens gets a whiff of Hamilton.