Rent, which came along in 1994 after Rubin-Vega's attempt to establish herself as a solo vocalist post-Pajama Party with several dance singles on the Maxi label, found her through her regular gigs at Caroline's Comedy Club alongside fellow members of the Latino theater troupe El Barrio, USA. After a series of impressive performances with that outfit, casting directors recruited her to audition. By 1996, with the role of Mimi firmly in her grips and earning her raves -- her costumes, plucked from her own closet, defined the character and eventually spawned a line of Rent-derived clothes in Bloomingdale's -- she moved with the play from off-Broadway to very much on. And by the end of her name-making Rent run -- Rosario Dawson replaced her as Mimi in 1997 -- she had scored nominations for both a Tony and a Drama Desk Award.
With Broadway stardom out of her system, Rubin-Vega again directed her attention toward a singing career in 1997 with the release of Souvenirs on Mercury Records; it was met with mixed reviews. She also turned in performances in a number of forgettable films, including Wild Things and Flawless. But by 2001 she was back on Broadway, causing eyes to bug out in her role as Magenta in the all-star musical The Rocky Horror Show, based on the cult Tim Curry film. If that show marked a return to daring, free-spirited theatrical form, it was cemented in 2004 with another Tony nomination, this one for her performance in Anna in the Tropics with Jimmy Smits. Two years later she released a collection of pop, Latin folk, rock, and reggae songs titled Redemption Songs. The album hit the shelves right as she was making her debut as Fantine in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables. ~ Tammy La Gorce, Rovi