Aaron Tveit Moulin Rouge
Aaron Tveit Moulin Rouge

Exclusive: Aaron Tveit on His Five-Year Moulin Rouge! The Musical Journey

After more than 500 performances in Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Aaron Tveit took his final bow as Christian in the Tony Award–winning show last May. Or so we thought.

On Tuesday, January 17, after an exciting announcement last month, Tveit begins a limited return engagement in Moulin Rouge! The Musical, reprising the performance that earned him a 2020 Tony Award. Amid rehearsals for his first show back, Tveit sat down with Broadway Direct to discuss being on the Al Hirschfeld Theatre stage once again, reflect on the many costars he’s shared his five-year journey with in the show, and give details on the upcoming new season of Schmigadoon!, the Apple TV+ series.

When did discussions of this limited engagement begin? Did you know back in May that you’d return one day?

I didn’t know in May, no. I had expressed a few times that returning was something that I would always want to do, come back in with the right circumstance. They called me this past fall to see about this little short stint in the new year. I had just finished working on the second season of Schmigadoon!, which comes out this spring, so I had a bit of time in the middle between those things, and I just jumped at the chance.

Aaron Tveit, Sahr Ngaujah, and Ricky Rojas in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Aaron Tveit, Sahr Ngaujah, and Ricky Rojas in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

I’ve never really had the chance to go back to something that I created, and I’ve always wanted to do that. The example I like to think of is Billy Porter in Kinky Boots. He went in and went out of the show a few times, and I saw that and I was like, “Oh, I’d love to do that sometime.” So this was the perfect timing for both sides and I was just thrilled for the chance to go back.

What excites you about revisiting this role, especially with some time since the last time you performed it?

This is like the 5.0 version for me, because we did the developmental lab, the Boston tryout, nine months on Broadway, then another seven months post-shutdown, and now here we are again. This has been a unique experience in that it has been different chunks of time spread out over the last five years, which is crazy to think, but every single time it’s different for me. I think you as a person are different, so your experience is different, the way you’re interpreting the material.

There’s a lot of cast changeover now, which brings a totally different energy in the building. There are still some people there from the very beginning, people who I did the show with the last couple of months before I left, and then even brand-new people coming in a couple of weeks after I start. The energy is just brand-new, which informs the work that I’m doing on stage and what I’m getting from other people. Already, even just in rehearsal, I found my thought process is different and tons of little new moments are popping, and I think that’ll only happen further as we get into the show.

What is the rehearsal process like for a “replacement run,” since this is a role you created for the stage and have so deep in your bones already?

It’s been really fun. I had a day with the associate choreographer and the assistant director, and we talked about what the rehearsal process was going to look like beforehand. I asked to have one day with just the two of them and we walked through every scene just as a refresher of “this is where I go, this is what I do.”

Then I had a couple of days rehearsing with the understudies and swings, who are all amazing. And this last week I had an afternoon with the principal cast, and then with everyone at my put-in rehearsal. It was a few days over the course of two weeks, but it was just enough. It was perfect.

Sahr Ngaujah, Natalie Mendoza, Tam Mutu, Ricky Rojas, Aaron Tveit and Danny Burstein in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Sahr Ngaujah, Natalie Mendoza, Tam Mutu, Ricky Rojas, Aaron Tveit and Danny Burstein in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

You mentioned that the company looks a lot different than it did when you started performing in the show five years ago. The other times you originated a role on Broadway, in shows including Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can, you were always with the original cast. What’s it like performing opposite so many different actors and interpretations in one show? Plus, having to form those new connections since your role is so closely linked with all the characters on stage.

It’s been really kind of amazing. When you create a show with the original group, it’s a bit of a different experience. You’re really starting from scratch and really building everything out and all of these things. But, as you mentioned, I’ve only had the experience with one group of people for each of these other shows.

Every iteration of Moulin Rouge! has been slightly different, and now it’s maybe the most different, but I love that. I love the opportunity to play all of this with different people because even if you think you’re doing the same thing, you’re not, because you’re really playing off of and reacting to the people around you.

There are so many interrelationships on stage within the show. To find all those new pathways is really fun and keeps it really fresh, even though I’ve done the show over 500 times. It feels really new to be back on stage with this group of people.

Wow, 500 times. Maybe this will end up being your Carol Channing.

Yeah, maybe. Who knows! [Laughs.]

Lots of praise, including a little trophy known as the Tony Award, has come your way for your performance in Moulin Rouge!. But praise presented itself in another way last year when a video of you performing “Roxanne” had the internet buzzing. What has your reaction been to the response over that 40-second clip, including finding out that Lizzo herself put her own spin on it?

Oh, man, that part was so cool. I was already out of the show when Lizzo did that, but it was just wonderful to see that response. We’re really trying to get her to come to the show, so Lizzo, please come and see the show.

It was amazing. That number to me just means a lot and it’s my favorite thing to sing in the show. I’ve never really had a song in a show that I’ve done where I got to just really, really rip something like that. The more that I go for it, the more successful it is.

They came up with the idea to capture it on film and put it out, as I was leaving. I think I’d always hoped that we’d maybe get to perform it somewhere. So just, personally for me, it was really nice to have it preserved.

It’s so weird with theater, unless you do a full pro-shot recording, these performances exist somewhere in the past. So for something that means so much to me, to have that is just, very selfishly, it’s pretty amazing. And then of course the response was just beyond anything I could have ever expected.

Is that a moment you look forward to every night? Or, since it’s beloved by many coming into it, is it all the more daunting?

No, I’ve always looked forward to that. The second act of the show and where I try to go with it is very operatic. You don’t get to go that far down the well in a lot of musicals, or at least I’ve never gotten to really do that. I love it. And as challenging as that last 30 minutes is, it’s that rewarding. I really look forward to that part of the show every night.

As you mentioned, in the time away from Moulin Rouge!, you filmed another season of Schmigadoon! Is there anything you can tell us or tease about the new season, or is that all under lock and key?

I’m a little bit under lock and key, but the one thing that they have announced is the “Schmicago-ness” of the second season. The show will still be called Schmigadoon!, but “Schmicago” is in play for this next season. Without giving away too much, anybody who knows the first season understands that we dealt with very classical MGM, Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals of the ’40s and ’50s. So hearing “Schmicago,” one would imagine that it would be a different group of musicals that will be interpreted this year. I think that’s the safest thing I can say. [Laughs.] It operates the same way.

Aaron Tveit and Cecily Strong in the first season of Schmigadoon!
Aaron Tveit and Cecily Strong in the first season of Schmigadoon!

Almost the entire cast from the first season has returned, which is just incredible. The first season was filmed early during the pandemic, which I think is a big reason that specific group of people was available at the same time. It’s the most incredible cast, and to play in that world with them is really, really special. I hope that people enjoy season two as much as we enjoyed shooting it.

Your performance on that first season is just incredible, flexing that comedic muscle. It was great to see another side of you that we don’t see quite as often in your other, more dramatic projects.

I had so much fun doing that. And listen, I’ve never gotten to do Carousel, so I got to live out my Carousel dreams in a very weird way, which was really cool.

Les Misérables, another screen project of yours, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Is there anything from that experience that sticks out now that you’ve had so much space from it?

I knew it was crazy at the time. I remember when I got cast, I was in utter disbelief because of the other people who were cast.

You were the Broadway representation in there.

Yeah, and it’s funny you say that. I think that’s the thing that stuck with me over all of this time. When I got cast, I didn’t feel any kind of nose-turning from the Broadway community. Instead, I felt support, with people saying, “You’re representing all of us,” since they cast a lot of stars and people not necessarily directly involved with the Broadway community. To be the one they chose to kind of hold a banner for Broadway was just absolutely incredible.

Looking back, it’s become even more meaningful to me that I got to do that. And, again, it’s wonderful to be a part of this community. The Tony Award was the same way. It’s a moment of just really feeling like you’re seen by your peers. And I think that is the overwhelming feeling that I feel about Les Misérables and how people reacted to it.

With time away from performing eight times a week, did you have a chance to catch any theater yourself? Are there any particular shows that struck you as something special?

I have been able to see a lot of stuff, which has been really wonderful. I’m very grateful I got to see KPOP the last week before it closed. It’s such a unique, incredible show and I’m very disappointed that it didn’t find its way a little better. I hope that there’s future life for it, but I’m really glad that I got to see that.

Very recently, I got to see Some Like It Hot, which of course I went to support Marc [Shaiman] and Scott [Wittman, composers of Catch Me If You Can], and I just think their work is incredible. And I mean, J. Harrison [Ghee] and Christian [Borle], they’re just amazing in the show.

I also saw Kimberly Akimbo, which just completely rocked me. I’m really close friends with Vicki [Victoria Clark], and I looked at my watch 20 minutes into the show and I was like, “Oh, I’m bawling crying already.” That was my first time seeing a show at the Booth Theatre since I did Next to Normal there, and I was just blown away by that show. I just have a lot of respect and support for them. It’s a brand-new musical and a brand-new idea, and those are very difficult to do. They land what they’re trying to do so beautifully.

What are you most looking forward to on your first night back at the Al Hirschfeld?

Riding the wave that the band plays every night in that show, the full complement of that score and their work. I’m excited to hear and feel all of the music underneath what we’re doing.

And the audience at Moulin Rouge! is really very special. It’s an electric feeling to step out into that space and cross the passerelle to raise the sign at the beginning. There’s nothing like the thrill of a first performance, so I’m excited to feel all that inside my body.

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