Why 'Rent' Is Still Relevant: Vanessa Hudgens, Valentina & Tinashe Preview the Live Musical


On Jan. 26, 1996, previews for a brand new musical started in a small theater in New York's East Village. The present's solid -- although it included future stars Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs -- was largely unknown; its author, 35-year-old Jonathan Larson, was a struggling artist just like the characters he wrote. As for its material -- gentrification, drug dependancy and the AIDS epidemic -- and rock-driven rating, each have been removed from typical for musical theater.

That present, Rent, turned out to be revolutionary. Though it opened off-Broadway below the shadow of tragedy -- Larson died unexpectedly of an aortic aneurysm the night time earlier than the primary preview -- Rent transferred to Broadway inside three months, attracting “Rentheads” who slept outdoors the theater and repeated the present's “No day however immediately” mantra as if it have been scripture. It stayed open for greater than 5,000 reveals.

Over twenty years later, a brand new technology can be launched to the now basic play when, on Jan. 27, Rent Live! debuts on Fox. “It was the primary musical to create a motion,” says government producer Marc Platt, who has additionally overseen the community's acclaimed Grease Live! and Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. “In phrases of the life-or-death stakes, it's the forefather of reality-based musicals like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen.”

But, greater than maybe any of the stay TV musicals produced to date, Rent's success depends upon capturing the explosive power of its solid. “The energy of this present is within the relationships and the way we share these classes of affection, forgiveness, loss, transformation,” says Brandon Victor Dixon, 37, who starred as Judas in NBC's Jesus Christ Superstar in April and can play the AIDS-afflicted philosophy professor Tom Collins in Rent Live!

Rent has all the time been concerning the characters' psychology,” says the present's unique director, Michael Greif, who labored in tandem with Rent Live! director Alex Rudzinski. “Jonathan wrote characters with lovely insights and self-reflection. To get a gaggle of people that might go there merely and deeply was thrilling.”

Casting that group, similar to within the 1990s, meant discovering actors who might sing and dance, however -- extra importantly -- telegraph a real youthful je ne sais quoi. The lead actors are an appropriately numerous group that features stage-and-screen regulars like Dixon, Jordan Fisher and Vanessa Hudgens; seasoned pop singers akin to Tinashe and Mario; and magnetic newcomers like drag queen Valentina.

“Honey, I'm prepared for it,” says the RuPaul’s Drag Race star, 27, who performs drag queen Angel, a dancer and drummer battling AIDS. “Angel is iconic. He's a little bit beacon of hope when everybody's actually going by means of it who reveals you possibly can stay your finest life irrespective of how shitty it is likely to be.”

Valentina, who's concurrently making ready for the following season of RuPaul's All Stars, is having fun with the bodily calls for of taking part in Angel (“I'm making an attempt to get my physique actual snatched”), however she emphasizes the intense significance of her function as effectively. “As a drag queen onstage, you throw your leg up excessive, the group goes loopy. On TV, you need to be plausible,” she says. “Putting [a character like Angel] onstage, who was a triple minority [in the '90s], as a primary character -- that despatched a message. And visibility is necessary now greater than ever.”

Like Valentina, many castmembers first noticed Rent not onstage however in its 2010 movie incarnation. Singer Mario, 32, who performs landlord Benny (the function Diggs originated), watched the unique stage play on YouTube, and the story hit near house. “As somebody from Baltimore, rising up in a lower-income neighborhood with members of the family who used medication, seeing gentrification, individuals near my household contracting AIDS from drug use -- the film touched me in so some ways.”

Tinashe performs Mimi, the charismatic HIV-positive junkie stripper whose romance with troubled musician Roger (Brennin Hunt) is at Rent's heart. “So many musicals are interval items, however it was cool to see this extra trendy method,” says Tinashe, 25, who first noticed a school manufacturing of Rent in center college. “And it was thrilling to see a solid filled with minorities -- a extra correct illustration of the world we stay in.”

In a 2010 manufacturing of Rent on the Hollywood Bowl, it was Hudgens, 29, who performed Mimi, however this time she'll deal with the charming but narcissistic lesbian efficiency artist Maureen (who Menzel portrayed within the unique manufacturing). “Vocally, emotionally, it's a tricky half,” says Hudgens, who earned raves for her portrayal of Rizzo in Grease Live! in 2016. Adds Greif: “Vanessa actually gained this.”

More than anybody character, the Rent Live! crew is hoping the present as a complete resonates. Though a lot of what made Rent really feel so visceral and speedy when it premiered, from the day by day specter of the AIDS epidemic in Manhattan to the needles in Tompkins Square Park, now looks like a distant reminiscence, the workforce is betting on the truth that the core thought -- to search out power in neighborhood and “measure your life in love,” as its most well-known tune, “Seasons of Love,” says -- is one which's timeless. “Jonathan wrote about how he was residing by means of a time of adversity and the way the one approach to overcome it was to unify, to handle it collectively,” says Platt. “That's a battle cry for immediately. That's the spirit of Rent.”

No Day But Today... To Land A Dream Role


“Y’all know I’m all the time sipping on some tea I’m frankly dying to spill. What y’all don’t know is that fourteen years in the past, my final dream I wished to see manifested was to be the primary Mark Cohen of shade. That dream is about to be realized,” he wrote on Twitter.


“They’re undoubtedly massive footwear to step into,” he tells Billboard. “You see all this power and disappointment and anger after which Benny pulls up in the course of the fireplace and I’m like, ‘Oh, shit. I’m that man! The man everybody hates in the beginning?’ It’s a approach for me to problem myself.”


“It was on my bucket record of roles, however I’ve checked it off,” he tells Billboard. “I did Rent off-Broadway in 2012. Their [original] Collins bought injured. My Angel on the first rehearsal stated, ‘I noticed you in The Color Purple after I was 14!’ I used to be ready for the age distinction.”

This article initially appeared within the Dec. eight subject of Billboard.