$
Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Danny Burstein in photo

The Back-to-Back Broadway Milestones of Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Talk about zero to 60. In late September, after an 18-month hiatus necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the musical Moulin Rouge! The Musical resumed Broadway performances and then won 10 Tony Awards — all in the space of 48 hours.

For the stars and creators of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, that brief time between September 24, when the production resumed its Broadway run, and September 26, when it walked away with all those Tonys, is remembered as a thrilling whirlwind — one that required a lot of energy, discipline, and prep work.

“The week leading up to all that felt about a month long,” says Aaron Tveit, laughing. Tveit won the award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical on Tony night. “I remember the day after the Tony Awards, thinking that the Monday prior we were still in tech, and I just couldn’t understand how it all happened.”

Even rehearsals felt momentous, as the crew and cast members — with about one third of the performers new to the show, including Natalie Mendoza in the role of Satine — got back to singing, dancing, and acting after the inactivity of the shutdown.

“It felt like more than just starting rehearsal for the first time,” says the show’s Tony-winning director, Alex Timbers. “And then all the usual milestones — the first run-through, the first dress, the first time performing for an invited audience — those all felt twice as transcendent and revelatory.”

Even as the full show was making its way toward its return, the cast was in simultaneous rehearsals for the special sequence that would air during Tony Awards broadcast. It was a complete reimagination of the opening number, trimmed from 11 minutes to less than four and folding in a spotlight moment for Mendoza — and it meant the company was rehearsing and memorizing two different versions of the same number at the same time.

That busy week culminated in the long-awaited Broadway return, cheered on by an eager, enthusiastic crowd. “The audience was utterly incredible,” Tveit says. “It was more than I could have ever imagined. There was just so much energy in the house.” He adds, “It was really difficult during those first couple performances back, trying to be in the show but also having a conscious awareness of being back on that stage, in that space, sharing this really special moment with the audience.”

That first performance was particularly significant for a cast that had been hit very hard by COVID-19 in the earliest days of the pandemic. “Broadway means so much to this company, backstage and on stage, and I think being part of the return is another thrilling, spiritual, and inspirational element of all this,” Timbers says.

Two days later, the show’s stars and creators were attending the Tony Awards — and they’d been so busy prepping for the first performance that they barely had a moment to get nervous. At the ceremony, the mood in the room felt different than in previous years. “That night, everyone was cheering each other on, because it was about so much more than awards or competitiveness,” Timbers says.

For Moulin Rouge! The Musical, the wins came early and often as the show quickly racked up trophies in the design and orchestration categories, along with winning honors for director Timbers, choreographer Sonya Tayeh, and actors Tveit and Danny Burstein. Toward the end of the night, the show won the top trophy for Best Musical. Timbers says the Tony press room, where winners are taken following their acceptance speeches, started to feel like a Moulin Rouge! The Musical reunion.

Nonetheless, Tveit says he found most of the evening “completely stressful,” because despite being the only nominee in his category, it would have been possible for the voters to decide not to honor him with the trophy at all. To quell his nerves, he wrote out his acceptance speech so his mind wouldn’t go blank if and when they called his name.

He doesn’t remember much about standing up at the podium when he received the Tony. “I did watch it back once, but I wouldn’t do it again,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a bit mortifying.”

After the ceremony, the Tony-winning creators and stars joined the full company at the famed Central Park venue Tavern on the Green for a COVID-compliant outdoor celebration. And then the company got back into the rhythm of a Broadway performance schedule.

In many ways, it’s like old times — but one thing in particular feels different.

“The audiences have been just as ravenous as that first night,” Tveit says. “There’s this overwhelming feeling that they are so excited to be there, and that this is something they’ve not been able to do for so long. This is a part of our pre-pandemic life that we now have back, and that’s a really important thing.”

Learn More About Moulin Rouge! The Musical