When Aaron Tveit left Broadway’s Moulin Rouge! last May, it wasn’t the first time he stepped away from the role of Christian. “When I left that day, I had a good feeling that it wouldn't be the last time,” the actor says. Having been a part of the show’s evolution since its development in 2017, Tveit refers to his latest turn on the Al Hirschfeld stage as Moulin Rouge! 5.0. “I have, oddly enough, had a number of instances where I've gone away for a number of months and come back. So, I was a little bit prepped for that.” Now, Tveit is back amongst the bohemians of Montmartre, playing the aspiring writer who falls for the courtesan Satine at the famous Parisian nightclub. He will play Christian through April 9.
Based on the Baz Luhrmann film of the same name, Moulin Rouge! the Musical opened on Broadway July 25, 2019. The new stage musical features a book by John Logan, and several of the songs from the movie's hit soundtrack. Among the pop songs which have made it from screen to stage are Elton John’s “Your Song,” Diane Warren’s “Rhythm of the Night,” and Fatboy Slim’s “Because We Can.” However, the Broadway production features a slew of more recent top 40 tracks from the likes of Adele, Beyoncé, Walk the Moon, and dozens more. Of the show’s 14 Tony nominations, the musical took home 10, including Best Musical and a Best Actor in a Musical win for Tveit.
Directed by Alex Timbers with choreography by Sonya Tayeh, Moulin Rouge! follows newcomer and writer Christian as he falls in with the penniless artists and courtesans of Paris. He is soon enthralled by the dilapidated glamor of the nightclub where he meets its star Satine, and a forbidden love story begins.
With each return he has made to the show over the years, Tveit has approached playing Christian with as fresh a perspective as he can, despite doing over 500 performances. What’s new for the actor this time around? “I don't know what it is, the first act of the show now just feels like it flies by,” Tveit shares. “Maybe I've released some things from myself to really be able to go on the ride and get pinballed around as this stranger in a strange land when I start the show.”
Embracing that lightness, Tveit keeps his nerves to a minimum by avoiding big rituals. It’s a buoyancy that matches his optimism—after all, he does believe in happy endings, referring to himself as an “innately optimistic person.” It’s a key difference between Tveit and Christian. The actor believes Christian, who loves and loses, ultimately embraces Satine’s cynicism by the end of Moulin Rouge! To him, Satine's death is a gift because “she allows him to go on in this new way," but he ultimately thinks Christian stops believing in happy endings.
Given how Tveit’s hopes to return to the musical worked out, it’s not hard to see why the actor believes in happy endings—particularly when it feels like everything's coming full circle. Though he's originated many roles on Broadway, including in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, “This is the first time that a show that I've worked on for such a long time has had this kind of a successful run. I've never had the chance to go back to something that I was so personally tied to in this way,” he says.
Tveit returned just in time to see off Tony nominee Sahr Ngaujah, who originated the role of Toulouse-Lautrec, in his last performance February 5. “I had no idea that he was going to be leaving. It was another thing that was very meaningful to be a part of. He stood on stage on our last show on May 8, 2022 and saw Ricky [Rojas], Natalie [Mendoza], and myself out,” the actor explains. “For me to get to do that for him, along with our original production stage manager, was really special.”
Along with Ashey Loren, the current Satine, the musical also recently welcomed a new Toulouse-Lautrec and Duke of Monroth: André Ward and David Harris. In a turn of events, the new casting has facilitated a reunion between Tveit and Harris, who last performed together in Australia in 2016.
In his time away from the musical, Tveit rejoined his Schmigadoon! castmates (and fellow Broadway alums) to film season two of the Apple TV+ television show. Though, spending his days on set felt less like filming and more like a return to his youth. “That show feels like a theatre summer camp in the best way possible. It feels so fun,” he says. “It feels like how it felt doing a show in high school, right? Everybody is just there to have fun and play. That’s the vibe every day, and [the show's leads Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key] really set the tone.”
Titled Schmicago!, the series continues to make its way through the generational canon of musical theatre. So what musical would Tveit love to parody if the show goes for season three? His answer: “Something like Les Schmisérables could work.” (Obviously something an Enjolras would say.)
Returning to Moulin Rouge! hasn’t been without challenges, though. Eight shows a week was an adjustment after so much time away. “I got shot out of a cannon, zero to 1000,” he says of only having a few days in rehearsals to brush up on the part before stepping on stage again.
It was “kind of a double-edged sword,” Tveit says. Without weeks of rehearsals and previews, there hasn’t been the usual conditioning and building of stamina that actors develop. But the flip side? “The trade-off is I'm not tired from a month of tech and previews.” That extra energy has helped Tveit manage the transition, but it’s also something he has to keep in check. “It was difficult because my first night back, the audience was just so amazing. I had to keep reminding myself not to let my adrenaline go on the ride, or I never would have made it through that first week,” he shares.
Of course, with only a few days to make sure he gets the show’s 70-something songs in order, Tveit relies on a kind of muscle memory to keep from making a mistake. “If you stop and think about what's next, you'll mess up. I feel like I have two brains going on: I have my brain that's doing the show, and then there's the brain that's thinking about other things. And if I think about what's next, I will mess up my lines or a song or anything. You have to trust that you know what's going on—you're in the scene, you're staying open to your scene partners—and let yourself kind go on this ride. It's the strangest thing.”
Returning this time “was a bit surreal” for Tveit who had to adjust to some changes to the show’s staging in the past several months. When the production returned following the pandemic, Moulin Rouge! adjusted some of its blocking. As theatre has begun to settle back in and the show has grown into multiple productions, the blocking has since reverted to its pre-pandemic staging during Tveit’s absence. The actor only had a few days in the rehearsal room to re-master the blocking he had last performed in 2020.
He explains, “I've come back and had to relearn what I did originally, and unlearn what I was doing when I immediately left. So, it's a very smeared headspace.”
Another surprise for the actor has been learning how popular his performance of the song “El Tango de Roxane” is on social media. Since it was posted April 7, 2022, the video has received 3.1 million views on the show’s TikTok—and it also inspired a viral cover by Grammy winner Lizzo. “I'm aware, but I don't think I'm actually aware,” Tveit reveals of his Internet fame (though he does hope that Lizzo comes to the show).
In the couple of weeks since reprising Christian, Tveit has been asked about the viral video by multiple people. He feels “grateful” for the bit of ignorance he still has about the clip’s popularity, saying, “I think I’ll stay in this place.”
See photos of Aaron Tveit's return in Moulin Rouge!