The Wilson Beacon

Original Broadway RENT star surprises Wilson cast

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Original Broadway RENT star surprises Wilson cast

Photo courtesy of Karen Harris

Photo courtesy of Karen Harris

Photo courtesy of Karen Harris

Chloe Fatsis

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The cast of RENT was rehearsing the song “Seasons of Love” when a woman wearing a puffy black jacket and camouflage pants casually strolled down the aisle of the Wilson auditorium. As soon as the students finished singing, they noticed her and started screaming. They covered their mouths with their hands, hugged each other, and jumped up and down.

The surprise visitor was none other than Idina Menzel, one of the stars of the original Broadway cast of RENT. “It was almost like a ripple of people slowly seeing her face and being like, ‘oh my gosh, is that really her?’” said senior Gabby Anifantis, who plays Mimi, one of the leads of the musical. “It’s definitely something that theater kids dream about, but never think would actually happen.”

How did Menzel end up at Wilson, anyway? She was performing in DC this week and had found out that Wilson was putting on RENT. Menzel then got in touch with director Karen Harris to ask if she could come visit the cast. “She wasn’t sure people would recognize her, and I assured her that people in my cast would,” Harris said. “She wanted folks to be surprised, so I was not allowed to tell anybody.”

The cast was told that they were going to be filmed for a documentary about RENT that day. “The people that were filming and talking to us were asking us, ‘oh, who do you consider your role models?’” Anifantis said. “And it was crazy because all these people were answering ‘oh, Idina Menzel, Idina Menzel.’” Menzel is also famous for her roles in Wicked, a popular broadway musical, and the animated movie Frozen.

During her visit, Menzel spent about 45 minutes talking with the cast. “She … talked about her career, answered questions, talked about the show and what it meant to her, talked about what inspires her, how she trains, gave advice to aspiring performers,” Harris said.

They also discussed the show’s message and its relevance today. RENT, written by Jonathan Larson, tells the story of a group of friends living in New York City during the AIDS crisis.

“[Menzel] loved that high schools were doing this show,” Harris said. Menzel told the cast that Larson, who died in 1996, would be amazed that high schools are putting on a musical like RENT. 

The students performed several numbers for Menzel. Besides “Seasons of Love,” sophomore Nikki Keating and senior Julia Ravenscroft sang “Take Me or Leave Me.” Menzel played Ravenscroft’s role, Maureen, in the Broadway production of RENT. “She was quite impressed with the performances,” Harris said.

The next day, Menzel sent the cast another gift: tickets to her concert that night. At the concert, Menzel gave the cast a shoutout. “I went and visited the Woodrow Wilson High School this week. They’re doing a production of RENT at their school,” she said. “And they did some numbers for me yesterday and they were awesome and beautiful, so I want to thank them for coming.”

Other members of the original cast also sent selfies with good-luck messages to the Wilson cast. Timothy Britten Parker wrote, “We wish you love and gratitude for moving Jonathan’s work forward.” Rodney Hicks said in a video, “Sending you love and joy on your production of RENT.”

“Every theater girl’s dream is to meet Idina Menzel,” Anifantis said. “It was incredible and very surreal and got me very excited to perform RENT for another weekend.”

About the Writer
Chloe Fatsis, Features Editor

Chloe is a junior and is super duper excited to be Features Editor after two fun years writing for The Beacon. She does not in fact have a fat sister,...

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