Buh-Bye, Disney! Vanessa Hudgens' New Rockin' Role

A new production of Rent -- directed by Neil Patrick Harris -- casts the High School Musical star as an edgy heroin junkie

Let's say you're Neil Patrick Harris and you're directing a star-studded new production of Rent, the '90s rock musical about young artists living with AIDS in downtwon New York. The female lead is an HIV-positive heroin junkie who dances at an S&M club for a living. Who do you cast?

How about the star of Disney's squeaky-clean High School Musical franchise?

Yes, NPH has chosen Vanessa Hudgens, 21, to play Mimi in his upcoming August production of Rent at the Hollywood Bowl. "I look forward to audiences seeing a dark, edgy and very different side of Vanessa Hudgens," Harris told the press.

But not everyone is convinced that Hudgens has a "dark, edgy" side. Among the skeptics is gossip blogger Perez Hilton, who is so indifferent to Hudgens fans, he won't even use her name in headlines (he calls her WhatsHerName). Via Twitter, Harris has been defending his leading lady, telling Hilton: "Don't be such a hater about Vanessa in RENT. She came in, smoking hot, knew the part, sang it great. Why not be open to it?"

Hilton snarked back, asking why Harris didn't cast someone "with real talent" like Avatar's Zoe Saldana -- adding that Hudgens was too young and bland for the role. But Harris stayed classy, wrapping up the conversation with "Well, I hope when you see it, you like her. I look forward to reading your post-show wrap up." So do we!

Neil Patrick Harris, incidentally, has a close relationship with the score and staging of Rent: he performed in the national touring company in 1997, when the onetime Doogie Howser, M.D., star was trying to revamp his own squeaky-clean TV image.

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Do you think Vanessa Hudgens can succeed in leaving her wholesome image behind? Chime in below!

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