Bohemian rhapsody

Former Rent star Daphne Rubin-Vega revs up for a couple of seasons of stage love.

IT TAKES TUNE Rubin-Vega harmonizes with Yoba.

IT TAKES TUNE Rubin-Vega harmonizes with Yoba. Photograph: Carol Rosegg

How do you measure a year in the life of Daphne Rubin-Vega? It depends on which one you're talking about. In 2005, she was one of the two original cast members conspicuously absent from the mostly panned film version of Rent, Jonathan Larson's Broadway hit. But this year's another story: She has lined up a slew of stage roles that should keep her busy well into 2007.

After appearing last winter in Michael John LaChiusa's Bernarda Alba, Rubin-Vega now joins former New York Undercover star Malik Yoba in the New Group's Everythings Turning Into Beautiful, a play by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld with songs by Jimmie James. Then in the fall, she'll don the rags of Fantine for the Broadway revival of Les Misrables, and she'll be taking a hiatus early next year to join the LAByrinth Theater Company's production of Bob Glaudini's Jack Goes Boating with Philip Seymour Hoffman—his first stage role since winning the Oscar for Capote. And there's her latest solo album, Redemption Songs, which Sh-K-Boom Records will release in October.

It's a fitting album title for more than one reason. Rubin-Vega's record deal with Polygram ended with the company being sold in 1998, before a previous solo album was released. (She made it available through the Internet.) And writing and recording the new one kept the performer centered during her pregnancy and postpartum period, when most of her Rent costars were preparing to reprise their roles in the film.

Rubin-Vega couldn't partake, because she'd given birth to now-19-month-old son Luca Ariel in the months before shooting began. There was another, somewhat delicate, reason. "If they're going age-specific, I'm not a 19-year-old anymore," explains the candid, raspy-voiced and svelte performer, 36, who played AIDS-afflicted stripper Mimi Marquez. "The hardest part was really feeling uninvited to the party," she elaborates. "Along with the physical, hormonal, emotional and spiritual changes that go with having a baby, I was just feeling like I'm missing the one opportunity that could really make a difference. I think it's just human nature to wait for that which is just beyond your grasp."

Acute hopefulness is what also characterizes Brenda, the mediocre singer-songwriter Rubin-Vega plays in Everythings Turning Into Beautiful, a two-hander that's a curious cross between Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and They're Playing Our Song. Alone, nearing 40 and longing for a family, Brenda has teamed up with Sam (Yoba) for a CD they hope will rejuvenate their careers. Their professional union may also jolt them from their personal malaise, when Sam shows up at her apartment in the wee hours of Christmas Eve.

"She's so familiar; Brenda is somebody that I could easily have been," says Rubin-Vega as she nibbles an appetizer of octopus tentacles at a Hell's Kitchen restaurant, her mane of curly hair pulled back. But while Brenda grapples with growing up, her portrayer already has—her priorities have changed since the days of Rent.

In the 1990s, Rubin-Vega was one third of the dance-pop girl group Pajama Party, and was so far outside the theatrical establishment, she was barely in the same area code. Today she has a reputation as a stage actor who's at home in both musicals and dramas. "[At that time] I had a very clear vision of what I wanted my career to be: I want my music, I want my acting, I wanna do it all—and have a perfume line!" she says. "But things never work out the way you expect them to, and I thought maybe I'd be incredibly devastated if I didn't have a film career. I feel a lot saner now."

Not that she hasn't done screen work—Flawless with Robert De Niro and Wild Things with Kevin Bacon—but she's happy to remain based in the city. "I'll go to New Zealand to work, but to actually move my family somewhere doesn't make sense if I can stay here. It's not that I'm not interested in achieving a certain level of stardom. It takes one big thing to light a fire, and if I light that fire with what I love, I think I'll be better off."

Everythings Turning Into Beautiful is at New Group @ Theatre Row.