Catching up with the cast of ‘Rent’: Idina Menzel goes back to Broadway, where is everyone else?

Rent cast

The original cast of Rent

Sixteen years have passed since Rent first rocked Broadway and its grungy guitar chords still echo. Rent’s impact so dramatically shook the rock-musical genre that it can be divided into pre-Rent and post-Rent. Every show since looks back to this seminal debut.

There is a reason why we live in a post-Rent world. The show’s vulnerability, willingness to tackle taboos and its vibrant characters resonated with fans from the beginning. When Rent first opened in 1996 it affected audiences so deeply that fans waited hours in line for tickets and visited the theater several times per week. That level of appreciation rarely waned during the original production’s twelve-year run on Broadway and the 2005 film version of Rent added even more fans to the mix. The show closed on Broadway in 2008 was revived Off-Broadway in 2011.

Even after more than a decade and a half the show still inspires fans left and right and impacts new generations of musical-goers. The original cast, many of whom had never been on Broadway before and were still struggling as actors, began with the production when it was a work in progress at the New York Theatre Workshop. The actors never expected to be catapulted to fame in such a short time. Many are now household names who have gone on to further success and even reprised their roles in the 2005 film version of the musical.

In celebration of Rent, writer Jonathan Larson’s masterpiece, let’s take a look at where the original cast is now!

Rapp and Pascal

Rapp and Pascal

Anthony Rapp – ‘Mark Cohen’

Anthony Rapp, who played filmmaker Mark Cohen, is considered somewhat of an unofficial spokesman for Rent. Though he starred in film, released an album, and performed in the Tony-winning You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown after leaving Rent, the musical was never out of his life for long. His 2006 memoir, Without You, tells the story of his experience performing in Rent while his personal life was falling apart. The book shares behind-the-scenes stories about Rent and spreads new awareness about the show. He also reprised the role of Mark onstage years after his initial performance and starred in the 2005 film version of the musical. Rapp also took part in early workshops of Next to Normal back when it went by the name of Feeling Electric. He recently created and starred in a musical based on Without You, which he performed at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

Adam Pascal – ‘Roger Davis’

When Adam Pascal was cast as Roger Davis in Rent, he had absolutely no theatre experience. He had been pursuing a rock-and-roll career and likely never imagined that in a matter of months he would star in a high-profile Broadway musical. He had plenty of experience as the lead singer of a rock band, but he showed up to the Rent auditions with an untrained voice, no acting skills and plenty of raw talent. After leaving Rent he made a career out of theatre starring in Cabaret, Aida and Memphis on Broadway as well as releasing his own solo albums and touring as a musician. He starred in the Rent film and reprised the role of Roger onstage in 2009. He has also performed onscreen in School of Rock, Temptation and Cold Case.

Rent-OBC-rent-793101_550_358

Martin, Heredia, and Others

Jesse L. Martin – ‘Tom Collins’

Jesse L. Martin played the lovable Tom Collins. After Rent he continued with his previous role on Law & Order until 2008. He starred in the film version of Rent in 2005 and returned to the stage in The Merchant of Venice in 2010. This season he will appear on NBC’s Smash and also has a role in the pilot of NBC’s The Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives.

Wilson Jermaine Heredia – ‘Angel’

Wilson Jermaine Heredia played Angel, the heart and soul of Rent. Heredia had little experience wearing high heels or a dress before snagging the role. Several years after leaving Rent Heredia returned to drag in the Broadway revival of La Cage aux Folles and performed off-Broadway in Tales from the Tunnel.

Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel – ‘Maureen Johnson’

When Idina Menzel first stepped onstage in Rent she set the tone for her future career and family. She met her husband, Taye Diggs, through the production when they became costars. She and Diggs now have a son together. Menzel played the vivacious Maureen Johnson and is now one of the biggest names on Broadway. She starred in Aida with Adam Pascal and played Elphaba in the original Broadway cast of the much-beloved Wicked. She has released solo albums, toured as a singer and made countless television and film appearances. Menzel will return to the Broadway stage next spring in Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s If/Then.

The Cast of Rent

The original cast of Rent

Fredi Walker – ‘Joanne Jefferson’

Fredi Walker played Joanne Jefferson in Rent and reprised her role onstage years later. She has made television appearances in Law & Order and The Big C and played Rafiki in the national tour of The Lion King.

Daphne Rubin – ‘Mimi’

Daphne Rubin-Vega played Mimi and was the first actress to don those famous electric blue pants onstage. After she left the production she continued starring on the Great White Way in the The Rocky Horror Show, Anna In The Tropics, Les Miserables and A Streetcar Named Desire. She appeared in films like Sex and the City: The Movie, Union Square and Jack Goes Boating.

Taye Diggs – ‘Benny’

Taye Diggs, who plays Benny, continued on to a successful TV and movie career. Besides introducing Diggs to his wife, Idina, Rent put Diggs on the map as an actor. He can be seen onscreen in Chicago, Private Practice, Will & Grace, Grey’s Anatomy, How Stella Got Her Groove Back and countless other titles. He performed on Broadway in Chicago and in Wicked opposite his wife. Diggs has several new films in the works for 2014!

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About Claire H.

Writer, performer, picture-taker, New Yorker. Find me on Twitter at @Claire_Hannum.
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3 Responses

  1. I am a product of the RENT generation. Open mind, open heart and knowing that love can be a unit of measure.

    I fell in love with RENT in 1997. I was fourteen years old when a friend introduced me to the show.

    RENT was the second musical that I experienced live on Broadway. In 2000, I went on a field trip to NYC with my high school Chorus. We saw Les Miserables one night, and the next day participated in a workshop with the cast of RENT, before seeing that evening’s performance of RENT.
    I recall sitting there, absolutely blown away at both of the performances that we saw that week. I drew parallels between the two stories, and my life would never be the same.

    I remember being absolutely devastated that RENT was closing on Broadway. I outright wept, heartbroken – saddened at the loss that not only I felt, but that others, especially teens would not get to experience the uplifting message of RENT. Yes, there is the movie… but nothing compares to Moooing with a whole theatre full of strangers

  2. I will never forget my first viewing of “Rent.” I had never listened to the music and went to see it when it came out the day before Thanksgiving in 2005. I was BLOWN AWAY by the story, the songs, the characters, and the life lessons within the piece. I definitely like it better on stage (which I got to witness on Broadway a year later), but I’ll never forget how much this story affected my life.

    • 2005 was the year I first saw it too, I was never the same after that! And all these years later I’m still a Broadway addict, thanks in large part to Rent.