by Mo Brady
The news of a Broadway musical finding its original company is always exciting. Looking through the roster of names announced, your mind begins to imagine the world of the show and how it will be populated. To be fair, any cast announcement is exciting. But when I saw the full cast announced for the Broadway mounting of Moulin Rouge!, one thought superseded all others:
The ensemble of Moulin Rouge! is going to blow our fucking minds.
The cast of any Main Stem musical includes a variety of Broadway veterans and newcomers with a mix of talents and skill sets. But what makes these 22 actors in Moulin Rouge’s ensemble stand out can be summed up in three words: age, experience and uniqueness.
It’s a fact that Broadway is a young person’s game. The lifestyle of a performer combined with the toil the industry can take on actors means that most ensemble actors are younger than 30 years old. The Moulin Rouge! ensemble bucks that trend, with much of the cast having worked on Broadway for decades.
While a lady never reveals her age, four of the show’s female ensemble members have been working on Broadway for more than ten years. Ericka Hunter’s seven Broadway credits include the original company of Flower Drum Song in 2002. Bahiyah Hibah has a remarkable ten Broadway shows to her name, including playing Velma Kelly in Chicago. With experience, comes wisdom - which will no doubt be present in their performances.
Look at the previous credits of these performers and you can see a connective tissue among their professional experiences. They are “the weird ones,” some of the most unique pieces of commercial theatre of the last decade. Moulin Rouge!’s ensemble helped develop such out-of-the-box theatrical pieces as Hamilton, Here Lies Love and Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. The cast includes former Bette Midler Harlettes (Jacqueline B. Arnold), Rihanna backup dancers (Olutayo Bosede) and company members of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (Jennifer Florentino). Oh, and one of the show’s swings was a Fulbright scholar. (We see you, Dylan Paul.)
All of that non-traditional experience is layered on top of their incredible dance technique. Choreographer Sonya Tayeh’s company includes performers who have worked with the Kirov Ballet, the Radio City Rockettes and Stephen Petronio Company. Their technical experience combined with their atypical theatre backgrounds means that they are sure to bring skilled and layered performances to the Al Hirschfeld stage.
These are also much sought-after performers. Of the 22 performers, six of them are on Broadway this season in other musicals. Four are performing in the ensemble of Rent Live on Fox later this month. In between Moulin Rouge!’s Boston tryout and Broadway bow, Max Clayton will have been in two other Broadway musicals AND A Chorus Line at New York City Center. These are some of the hardest working ensemblists in the business today.
Uniqueness (a.k.a. Star Quality)
This is not simply a company of talented performers. This is a company full of the ensemblists who have stood out in almost every musical of the last five years, assembled into one mind-blowing cast. It’s Bandstand’s Morgan Marcell AND American Psycho’s Holly James AND Head Over Heels’ Yurel Echezarreta AND The Great Comet’s Reed Luplau, all on stage together. The Moulin Rouge cast is like the X-Men of Broadway ensemblists brought together to change the world, one production number at a time.
There are many reasons to be excited about Moulin Rouge!’s ascent to Broadway: director Alex Timbers’ track record of fantastically storytelling, Sonya Tayeh’s visceral choreographic style and Derek McLane’s indulgent scenic design are just the tip of the iceberg. However, included in that list are 22 ensemble actors who are sure to blow the roof off of the Hirschfeld.