I know by now this is old news to most of you. It made Twitter headlines earlier today, but it took me awhile to get home and get a chance to sit down with my computer to put my thoughts out into the mix. And when I finally did, I realized that my thoughts were mixed anyway, and that's even more confusing...
It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I'm a purist when it comes to art. Especially the art with which I grew up. I have written about RENT countless times before; I will write about RENT countless times in the future, beginning first and foremost with the production at the Hollywood Bowl this summer. In fact, when it was first announced that not only would RENT be returning to Los Angeles for a few very special shows in 2010 but also Neil Patrick Harris would be the special "guest" director, I scoured the internet looking for casting and ticket notices alike. I planned to get a Garden Box for at least one performance, and I sincerely considered buying the Friday Night Summer Concert Series pass simply to ensure I did not miss out on RENT. I figured I could find other people to take those random evenings of jazz or whatever off my hands.
Harris himself fed the fuel of my excitement by announcing via Twitter whenever he was heading into meetings about the production. Perhaps it should be noted then that today when Vanessa Hudgens was revealed to be the iconic female lead, his page fell silent. Maybe he wanted to sit back and see what the reaction was before responding to it. Or maybe the final decision wasn't even his-- though it does seem quite fitting that these two have a movie coming out this summer.
At first I was severely pissed about this news in a very personal way. I felt like this was a bastardization of one of the things I held most dear. Hudgens can sing in the pop princess sort of way, but can she belt it out? No. Does she have the raspy growl of that suggests a woman well beyond her years? No. Can she strut around the balcony and make men (and women) of all ages fall in love with her? No-- especially not without making them feel icky about it because she's still a child!
But I can see one 'up' side to all of this (and it wouldn't surprise me if that's why she was hired in the first place): Hudgens' younger fan base may have never decided they wanted to see a performance of RENT with another actor in the role. Their parents may never have considered letting them, either. And this is a story I feel very strongly that everyone should get to see. The amount you can learn about tolerance, differences, art, love, and life in general is more than worth the cost of admission. It is an eye-opener, but more importantly, it is a heart-opener.
And at the end, I do trust Harris. He performed in RENT long enough, working with some of the original castmembers, to know where there is wiggle room for artistic direction and where he needs to just pay homage to its creator. And I trust him enough not to pull a Chris Columbus and water down the story completely.
Admittedly, though, I am just a little bit wary now of who will be cast as Roger!