Wayne Brady has been cast in Neil Patrick Harris' Hollywood Bowl version of RENT. If that's not surprising enough (after all, the two play brothers on CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, and let's face it, this town runs on nepotism!), stew on this: he will be portraying Tom Collins, the brilliant professor who falls in love with a cross-dressing "ten-gallon pickle tub" player.
Okay, look: it was going to be weird enough to picture Brady playing opposite Vanessa Hudgens. I assumed he was cast in the role of Benny, the one-time close friend to the starving artists who sells out and is now all about a lot of flash and cash. Hudgens is finally legal, but she came to fame as such a young pop princess, and she still looks like a twelve year old, so Brady singing to the child bride about the "leather and lace" she wore to his office would have been cringe-worthy. He's old enough to be her father!
And in that, maybe Harris made a good call by having him play against type (because let's face it, as Benny, Brady would pretty much just be playing a version of himself!). But Brady is just so Donny Osmond vanilla that I can't imagine him hitting the heartbreak of the "I'll Cover You" reprise. Harris had to have known there were other options for this role, right? It wasn't like Brady walked in and two of the male roles were African American, so he had to be fit into one. I said it once, and I'll say it again: what about Elijah Kelley!?
Harris made some great calls by bringing back some RENT greats: original Broadway castmember Gwen Stewart (!), the Sony Pictures' film's Joanne, Tracie Thoms (!), and RENT: The Broadway Tour's official videoblogger, Telly Leung. Having those three who truly know the heart and soul of the play alongside Harris are reason enough to trust the production will have integrity. And I would buy tickets for them alone.
Other co-stars announced are Aaron Tveit, Skylar Astin, and Collins Pennie. I admit I didn't know those names off-hand-- though a quick IMDb search showed me I definitely recognized the faces-- and since they have all appeared in past musicals, I trust they have the ability, too. So, so far it appears the most mainstream famous are the only ones who are raising eyebrows for their casting.
When I interviewed Harris a few weeks ago, I of course had to ask him about his casting. And he, of course, wasn't allow to divulge these names to me. Had he, we would have had much more to talk about! But perhaps that's why he held back. Perhaps he knew there'd be some criticism and backlash, and he would prefer to just let the production speak for itself. I'm willing to give it that courtesy. Check back here in August, though, because if I manage to snag the garden box seats that I'm hoping for, I will post a full review!