Fox has finally announced the cast for its live production of Rent, and it is stacked with talented singers, but their roles within the musical have posed some serious questions.
Jordan Fisher, who leads the production as aspiring filmmaker Mark, will reunite with his Grease: Live co-star Vanessa Hudgens when she takes on the role of his fiery ex, Maureen. Meanwhile, Kiersey Clemons will play Maureen’s more sensible other half, Joanne. Elsewhere, Broadway star Brandon Victor Dixon is playing Tom while RuPaul’s Drag Race star Valentina will play his Angel; X-Factor contestant Brennin Hunt is taking on the role of Bohemian bad boy Roger while pop star Tinashe is set to belt it out as Mimi. Lastly, Mario will play Benjamin, Mark and Roger’s former-roommate-turned-landlord demanding they pay their rent.
The Greatest Showman breakout Keala Settle is also joining the cast in a “special role” to sing the musical’s most popular number, “Seasons of Love.” We’re not sure what that special role entails, but we’re here for it.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s break this down, starting with the good news.
Based on the cast list, it looks like the producers of Fox’s production are aware of the criticism surrounding the 2005 film adaptation of the musical in which most of the 30-something original cast members played their allegedly 19-year-old original characters. This cast is definitely younger and more in the intended age range of our Bohemian tribe. The character descriptions have Tom as a computer scientist who was expelled from MIT, not a professor like he is in the stage production, which could indicate a purposeful age-down.
This could be because Fox was savvy enough to hire Michael Greif, the director of the original Broadway production of Rent to helm the television adaptation. He’ll be joined by his former coworkers, casting director Bernie Telsey and costume designer Angela Wendt.
The addition of proven Broadway star Brandon Victor Dixon (who took over the role of Aaron Burr in Hamilton from Leslie Odom Jr.) is extremely promising. Valentina as Angel is an interesting choice that should bring a lot of fun to the production, but Angel is not an easy vocal part, so it’ll be interesting to see if Valentina can sing as well as she can lip-sync.
And the question of vocal ability is what brings us to our issue with this casting announcement.
All hardcore Rent fans (and let’s face it, if you’re reading this, that’s what you are) have at least heard of Hudgens’ less than stellar run as Mimi at the Hollywood Bowl celebration performance of Rent in 2010. The High School Musical actress redeemed herself as Rizzo in Grease: Live!, and we’re more confident in her ability to handle Maureen’s sashaying in “Take Me or Leave Me” than in the acrobatic singing required for Mimi’s “Take Me Out.”
Even a quick perusal of YouTube will assure you that Tinashe can handle complex choreography, but can she hit those high notes while sliding down poles and scaling scaffolding? That remains to be seen, and “Take Me Out” is one of the most iconic parts of the entire show. The pressure is on for the young pop star who recently was served an early exit from Dancing with the Stars.
Someone we know could handle the role is Clemons, who is instead playing Joanne. Yes, Clemons’ shorn hair gives her the put-together appearance of a lawyer, but her baby face makes it hard to believe she’s graduated college and law school already. Appearances aside, Clemons’ stellar vocal and acting performance in this summer’s indie-sleeper Hearts Beat Loud gives us confidence that she can handle Joanne’s powerful belting moments in the show.
There are similar questions about Fisher as Mark. Even when we let go of the dream that was Dear Evan Hansen‘s Ben Platt taking the role, what kind of Mark is Fisher going to give us? Don’t get us wrong, the kid can sing and dance, but he’s almost too suave for us to see him as the awkward filmmaker. Fisher will definitely bring something new to the role that we haven’t seen in previous incarnations, but we remain unsure of whether those changes will be good. Let’s try to be optimistic.
The television live production of Rent airs Sunday, Jan. 27 at 7/8c on Fox.