When “Moulin Rouge” returns to Broadway on Sept. 24, Aaron Tveit is confident that audiences will see the musical in a whole new light. “There are going to be elements of the show that are highlighted because of what we’ve all now collectively gone through,” he says.
Although set at the start of the 20th century, the stakes in the show resonate within the context of the pandemic and the aftermath of Broadway’s extended shutdown. Struggling artists, a lead character with tuberculosis — the premise of “Moulin Rouge” hits close to Al Hirschfeld Theatre’s home.
“Not to be super morbid, but you know, our show is about a group of artists who are fighting for their right to put on their show. They’re fighting for the right to create art and express art,” says Tveit, seated on a bench in Riverside Park on a recent summer afternoon. The actor had donned a full Thom Browne suit for the occasion, and no suspension of aesthetic disbelief was necessary.
“After 16 months of live theater and live performance basically not existing, we’ve seen how vital that is for art and life — especially the artists who on stage and off put it together,” he adds. “And then on top of that, we have a woman coughing herself to death on stage — that now means something very different. What it means to sit in the audience and watch someone coughing on stage is very different.”
A few days after the show reopens, the much-delayed Tony Award ceremony will serve as a wider celebration of Broadway and the return of live theater. Tveit is all but certain to be one of this year’s winners; he’s the only one nominated for best leading actor in a musical. (He still needs to get 60 percent of the vote.)
Being nominated for a Tony represents the culmination of a lifelong dream, but Tveit shifts his focus to gratitude. “I look at it as, I’ve been able to keep all of this [an acting career] going for 15 or 16 years from my first job. And it’s a beautiful recognition of [‘Moulin Rouge’],” says Tveit, who’s 37; his professional career began in 2003 with the national tour of “Rent.” “I take it as a nice reminder of the work that I’ve been able to do in my career.”
Tveit has stayed busy — very busy — since last spring. Last June, Tveit was sent the script for a Hallmark Christmas movie, and a month later, he was in northeastern Connecticut filming what would be the first of several projects during Broadway’s extended shutdown.
“The cast and crew completely bubbled at the two hotels that were our locations in Connecticut,” says Tveit of filming the wholesome seasonal made-for-TV flick, an early foray into pandemic-era production. “One hotel was our exteriors, and one was our interiors, and the cast and crew lived at those hotels. It was like camp. But it worked,” he says. “You saw even that early on with testing and PPE that it was possible to safely get back on set.”
After Hallmark, Tveit spent most of the fall on the West Coast in Vancouver and Los Angeles, where he filmed the Apple TV+ limited series “Schmigadoon” and “American Horror Story” for FX, his first experience within the horror genre and a departure from the homey Connecticut set. (“We got to shoot it in the Murder House,” he says.)
“Schmigadoon” — a musical-comedy riffing on the classic production “Brigadoon” — airs its finale episode on Friday. The miniseries, which features an ensemble cast led by Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, is set in a mythical town and modeled on character tropes from the Golden Age of musical theater. Tveit is cast as the broody, bad boy rival love interest; his character was based on the protagonist of “Carousel.”
“I called my manager and my agents, and I said, ‘is this really what they’re trying to do?’” says Tveit, asked for his initial reaction to the project, which places a modern-day couple within a bygone town defined by antiquated values. The residents routinely break into song-and-dance routines. “I thought it was so smart, but also I thought it was really difficult to try to portray these very classical one-dimensional musical theater tropes.”
But while he thought the premise would be hard to pull off, Tveit was drawn to the opportunity of creating a comedy that audiences haven’t seen before. And it allowed him to tap into his Broadway identity: all of the musical numbers were performed and filmed in realtime as they would be on a stage.
Tveit has been enjoying a brief stretch of downtime before heading back into “Moulin Rouge” rehearsals. The show will reopen with a new leading lady; Natalie Mendoza is filling the role of Satine, vacated during the pandemic by Karen Olivo, also nominated for a Tony.
“I can’t wait to see the cast and everyone in the crew, everyone who works in the theater. The theater’s like a time capsule, my dressing room looks exactly as it did when I left it on March 12. I can’t wait to step back in there,” says Tveit, who hasn’t been back since a week after Broadway shut down in March 2020. “Everything’s still there. There are clothes there; I have a computer there. This stuff is just there.”
Not to mention the row of empty seats, patiently waiting to be filled.
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