Vanessa Hudgens on Channeling Her Inner ‘Diva’ as Maureen on ‘Rent’ & Her ‘SYTYCD’ Future

Rent - Vanessa Hudgens
Vanessa Hudgens

“Only thing to do is jump over the moon.”

Anyone who knows the acclaimed Broadway musical Rent knows those are lyrics from “Over The Moon.” The song is a solo performance for the character of Maureen, a sassy, flirty twentysomething artist. And in Sunday’s live version of the Jonathan Larson show, it will be Vanessa Hudgens jumping over the moon when steps into the shoes of the beloved character and brings her to life.

The live production, directed by Michael Greif, also stars Jordan Fisher (Mark Cohen) Tinashe (Mimi), RuPaul Drag Race’s Valentina (Angel), Brennin Hunt (Roger), Brandon Victor Dixon (Tom), Mario (Benjamin Coffin III), and Kiersey Clemons (Angie).

How’s Hudgens approaching playing Maureen? What’s she excited about? Is she nervous? And, aside from all that, will she back for the upcoming Season 16 of Fox’s dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance, where she’s been a judge the past two seasons? TV Insider asked all that and more.

As a performer, how are you going about kind of grasping who Maureen is?

Vanessa Hudgens: The important thing for me was just finding my truth in where Vanessa fits in as Maureen. I think it’s been really amazing having Michael [Greif], our director — who’s been a part of the Rent process since the beginning — there with me and helping guide me in the direction to find my own take on it, which has been so much fun. I’ve been having just such a blast bringing her to life.

How would you describe Maureen in your words?

She’s a diva! She’s very over the top. She loves being the center of attention. She’s very opinionated but she’s also extremely fun and flirty and unapologetic. Those are always fun characters.

This show is being done on a soundstage with so many different sets you’ll all be bouncing between. How will that work with the choreography of knowing where to be and when?

There’s a whole lot. When we did our first run-through, it was in costumes and with an audience, which just gave it that lovely extra added pressure that will come doing a live televised production of the show. I am fortunate enough to be familiar with the show. I had done it eight years go [at the Hollywood Bowl]. I played a different character [Angie] but I still know all of the songs and all of the lyrics. So I’m kind of a person that Kiersey [Clemons, who plays Angie in this production] comes to me and says, “What’s next?” I can fill her in.

Did playing Maureen this time around change your perspective on the show at all?

Completely. I feel like Mimi and Roger kind of have their own storyline, and there are so many other storylines as well. I definitely had to relearn the show for playing this new character and having a whole different job.

Jordan Fisher and Vanessa Hudgens during Rent rehearsals.

What would you predict audiences will take from the show now in 2019?

We’ve been talking to fans of the show and my favorite thing that someone has said was that Rent has allowed them to be more compassionate to people who may not be like them. And I feel like that is just such an incredible thing and something that the world needs more of.

How has that been for you singing “Over The Moon,” which I know is one of Maureen’s big solo numbers?

I’m not gonna lie, it was terrifying at first. Because it’s the only situation I feel that you, halfway through the show, stop, and there’s a performance piece, not a musical number, but a performance piece. It’s such a unique thing to have in a show to begin with, and the fact that I get to do it, A) this is very exciting because of the nature of that, but B) I was so scared. Figuring it out was a lot but having Michael there with me, who’s been a part of the creative team since the very beginning of Rent, who’s so special. We’re getting to bring ideas that he had in the past to its full fruition.

I still get chills every time I hear “Seasons of Love” but how was it singing that for the first time with this company?

It’s amazing. I mean, it’s one of those songs that everyone knows, whether or not they know the correct words. But it’s really special and it’s really the true core of the show.

I asked Jordan this when I talked to him — 30 minutes before the show begins, will you be super nervous or very focused or…?

Very excited! If you don’t have nerves, then you don’t care, and there’s something wrong there. Of course, we care so deeply about doing the show justice and being able to bring it to an audience that may not have seen it before is something that’s very special and unique. So of course, we want to do our absolute best. But I am one of those people who takes those nerves and tries to use them rather than fight them.

Shifting topics, we just found out So You Think You Can Dance is coming back for a Season 16. Will you be a part of it?

I’m hoping. My schedule is extremely crazy right now so my team is trying to figure it out with them. But we’re in talks, because I love being a part of the show. I love doing it so much. It’s something that I always look forward to, so I’m hoping that they’ll figure it out.

Rent, Sunday, January 27, 8/7c, Fox