Vanessa Hudgens Is Eager To Return To Stage For 'Rent'

'High School Musical' alum is gearing up to play Mimi in Neil Patrick Harris' production.

SANTA MONICA, California — One of them is a former teenage star who fell into punch-line status for nearly a decade before successfully rising from the ashes as a pop-culture icon. The other is a former teenage star currently navigating a move to break through to the next stage in her career. It almost makes sense that Neil Patrick Harris and Vanessa Hudgens would become BFFs, but it raises some eyebrows that they're joining forces for ..."Rent"?

"I'm so excited," Hudgens told MTV News of her participation in Harris' production of the musical for a run at the Hollywood Bowl in August. "I haven't done theater in years upon years, and that is my house."

The once squeaky-clean "High School Musical" star is set to play HIV-positive stripper Mimi in "Rent," which will mark the musical directing debut of NPH. Launched in 1994 and set in New York's East Village in the '80s, Jonathan Larson's rock opera tells the story of young artists struggling to survive the threat of AIDS. Harris starred in L.A.'s "Rent" production in 1997.

"He texted me, saying, 'Do you like "Rent"?'" Hudgens giggled as she revealed how she got the gig. "And I was thinking he was going to ask me to see it with him, so I'm like, 'Yeah, I love "Rent"!' "

NPH and Hudgens have really hit it off over the last year, as they worked together in Montreal shooting "Beastly," an adaptation of the "Beauty and the Beast"-based novel that will hit theaters July 30. And while some might say that this second collaboration is a stretch for the wholesome Hudgens, she insisted that she's not the only "High School Musical" alum in love with "Rent."

"It's really fun because me and my girlfriend Ashley Tisdale used to always sing 'Out Tonight,' " Hudgens remembered. "And now I actually get to do it onstage!

"Ashley was so excited," Vanessa said of breaking the news to her "HSM" co-star. "We were so obsessed with all the songs, and we would just sing them in the car over and over again. So she's really happy for me."

So far, Hudgens said she's had a "work session" with Harris to prepare for the stage show. "I came in and I sang a few songs for him, and we worked through it; it was so much fun, because within the songs are such loaded stories — it's a musical, and you get to say whatever you want within those songs."

Hudgens is eager to bring her own interpretation to Mimi. "I've been adding different emotions to certain lines that other people haven't done before; that's what we're playing with," she revealed. "It's so fun, it's like a scene within the song."

And as far as those who wonder whether Hudgens will be able to handle herself in "Rent," the 21-year-old assured us that she's ready, willing and able. "That's how I grew up, being onstage," she said of her youth spent performing in "Carousel," "The Music Man," "The King and I" and other local productions of musicals. "Now, I finally get to go back, and I'm so excited."