‘Moulin Rouge!’ Was Their Ticket. Then 2020 Occurred.
From a window in his Hell’s Kitchen condo, the theater director Alex Timbers can see the Moorish arcade adorning Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theater. For years, Timbers dreamed of working within the century-old home, and in the summertime of 2019, he received the prospect with “Moulin Rouge!,” a hot-blooded musical about bohemian artists whose revelry is tragically disrupted by infectious illness.
The present, tailored from Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie, was final season’s massive swing — it value $28 million to deliver to Broadway — and it was shaping as much as be a house run. Set in fin de siècle Paris however supercharged by 75 pop songs, it opened to a rave from Gadget Clock (“This one’s for the hedonists,” exulted Ben Brantley), and it was often promoting out all 1,302 seats, even throughout a vacation season when it value $799 to look at from a restaurant desk encircled by cancan dancers.
However over the winter, hassle started. The novel coronavirus was found in China. The Covid-19 outbreak unfold to Europe, after which to New York.
On the morning of March 12, the present’s producers determined to cancel that day’s performances as a result of a solid member was symptomatic. A couple of hours later, Broadway shut down, and it has been closed ever since.
Outdoors the Hirschfeld, three cast-stone columns are nonetheless sheathed in posters of the present’s stars, Danny Burstein, Karen Olivo, and Aaron Tveit, all of whom fell sick. Not less than 25 members of the “Moulin Rouge!” firm wound up contaminated, making this the toughest hit present on Broadway.
The once-glittering marquee, which Timbers appears to be like upon from his condo window, has been darkened for longer than it was illuminated. “There’s one thing form of grim and poetic about it,” he mentioned.
Timbers was amongst 52 individuals employed by “Moulin Rouge!” who shared their experiences of the final yr, by e-mail or by cellphone. This oral historical past comprises edited excerpts from these exchanges.
As 2020 dawned, “Moulin Rouge!” was settling in for what the corporate hoped can be an extended and profitable run.
RICKY ROJAS (actor) The present was on hearth, man. The schedule was super-hard, and I used to be always drained, like a zombie, however my spouse and son have been visiting from France, and the truth that they have been there made all the pieces higher.
PALOMA GARCIA-LEE (actor) Individuals have been coming again for a 3rd or fourth time. Individuals have been bringing their households. It was lovely seeing what it was changing into.
ALLIE DUFFORD (affiliate firm supervisor) In January and February alone, we have been getting ready for our look on “Good Morning America,” a go to to the Grammys, a efficiency at a convention within the Bahamas, to not point out working eight performances per week. And as soon as that mud settled, we have been going to be full steam forward to the Tonys.
MICHAEL DAVIS (trombonist) I used to be trying ahead to enjoying the present for all of 2020 and hopefully for a number of years past that.
JOHN LOGAN (guide author) We have been speaking about rollout plans, auditioning for the nationwide tour, discussing London and Australia and even desirous about translations. It was new territory, however thrilling.
On Jan. 30, the World Well being Group declared a worldwide well being emergency.
AARON TVEIT (actor) All of us heard what was occurring in China, however that had occurred earlier than, with H1N1 and SARS. I simply assumed it was like that, and it could be OK.
SEAN DRISCOLL (guitarist) I had learn “The Sizzling Zone” years in the past and am a fan of zombie/post-apocalyptic movies, so I used to be possibly primed to be a bit of frightened of illnesses that emerged shortly with the opportunity of spreading globally.
AARON TIEN (merchandise supervisor) I grew to become very self-conscious as a Chinese language-American. Studying and watching footage of hate crimes in opposition to Asian people on the rise, I began to distance myself in public if doable.
KATIE KRESEK (concertmaster/co-orchestrator) My Italian in-laws and pals have been sending every day tales of the severity of the state of affairs in Milan and Florence: hospitals filling up, medical doctors and nurses overwhelmed.
SAHR NGAUJAH (actor) My father is Sierra Leonean, so we noticed Ebola firsthand. By the point it reached Italy, I used to be fairly sure it was coming for New York.
MELISSA KAUL (laundry/wardrobe) I began taking additional precautions when washing the garments, and preserving my fingers coated in gloves whereas touching the costumes.
All through February, members of the solid have been getting sick. However many thought it was only a dangerous chilly and flu season; the primary Covid case in New York state wasn’t confirmed till March 1.
JEIGH MADJUS (actor) We’ve so many worldwide vacationers come to the present and I all the time do the stage door. They hug us, we take pictures collectively, and so they’re simply speaking proper into our faces.
MAX CLAYTON (actor) I assumed I used to be getting a chilly, after which I grew to become fluish with fevers and chills. The day earlier than Valentine’s Day, we had a solid assembly, and I used to be like, I can not do that night’s efficiency. Three of my finest pals have been going to be within the viewers, however I didn’t have the power, and my mind was cloudy.
KAREN OLIVO (actor) I misplaced a complete day — wakened round 8 or 9, went to the remaining room, handed out in a chair, and wakened once more at 10:45 that evening. That was the start of it for me. The weak point was so dangerous — I needed to maintain on to the wall to get to the remaining room. However I’m an asthmatic, so I assumed, “I’ve bronchitis, but once more.”
GARCIA-LEE I used to be out of the present for nearly per week. I had the worst flu of my life. However it’s Broadway, so that you come into the present typically whenever you’re not feeling so effectively. I got here again to work lengthy earlier than I used to be higher.
CLAYTON I used to be paranoid that I used to be letting individuals down, trying like a weak incapable dancer, a whiner, the entire issues that so many actors worry. I didn’t really feel nice, however I went again. We’re anticipated to indicate up.
ROBYN HURDER (actor) You’re simply ready. You see one particular person’s out for per week, after which one other particular person’s out for per week — you’re like, OK, take your echinacea and your elderberry.
Danny Burstein, who portrays the cabaret proprietor, was performing by way of a very troublesome interval. His spouse, the actress Rebecca Luker, had been identified with A.L.S. in November, and the illness was progressing quickly.
DANNY BURSTEIN (actor) I used to be exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping. And there’s some extent within the present when Karen Olivo, as Satine, tells us that she has consumption, and there have been instances the place that basically hit house. One evening I used to be so choked up I couldn’t communicate — nothing would come out. However doing the present saved my sanity, as a result of I used to be in a position to have an escape.
In early March, the solid began to note a smattering of empty seats within the viewers, and some patrons carrying masks. On March 6, the manufacturing barred the solid from greeting followers on the door or giving backstage excursions. After which on March 12, Tam Mutu, who performs the villainous Duke of Monroth, advised administration that he had a fever.
DYLAN PAUL (actor) I used to be headed into the theater to play an ensemble function. I obtained a textual content giving me a heads up that I’d be on for the Duke as an alternative. I ate nutritional vitamins on an empty abdomen, threw them up on forty seventh, grabbed a smoothie, and began placing on numerous eyeliner.
KEVIN CURTIS (actor) I used to be in full drag make-up, prepared for the matinee, when the corporate was known as all the way down to the home.
MORGAN MARCELL (actor) I used to be holding fingers with somebody who later examined constructive for Covid whereas they made the announcement we’d be closed.
GARCIA-LEE They have been like, “If anybody isn’t feeling effectively, tell us.” I bear in mind sitting there, and realizing. I went as much as the corporate supervisor on the finish of assembly and mentioned “I think that is what I’ve.”
MATT HONG (woodwind participant) We have been advised solely that that day’s matinee and night present can be canceled, and that we must always wait to listen to about the remainder of the week. Inside an hour or two, the governor had shut down all of Broadway.
CURTIS I left the theater and sobbed all the practice journey again to my East Village condo. All I may suppose was I lastly made it to Broadway and my mom didn’t see me. She had tickets for March 15.
OLIVO My husband and I each made a dangerous name to get out of New York, as a result of we have been afraid we’d not have the ability to see our children, who we co-parent with their organic mom in Wisconsin. Thirty minutes after the shutdown we bought tickets. I had two N95 masks in a go- bag; I grabbed a duffle bag and my canine and received on a aircraft.
DAVIS These of us within the horn part started estimating how lengthy we’d be shut down. None of us guessed a date past April 28, 2020.
Within the days following the Broadway shutdown, quite a few firm members realized they’d Covid. Some had delicate signs; many have been fairly sick. Not less than two have been hospitalized, however the entire firm members recovered.
JUSTIN LEVINE (musical supervisor/orchestrator) Two or three days after all the pieces closed, I received sick. I had a excessive fever and aches, however the largest symptom was full exhaustion. I used to be winded by strolling to the lavatory.
TVEIT I used to be sleeping 13 hours an evening, was very torpid, and I felt like I had chlorine up my nostril for 2 weeks. It was dangerous, however I used to be one of many fortunate ones, as a result of it didn’t go into my chest or lungs.
MICHELE GUTIERREZ (electrician) I used to be roasting some dried chiles on a comal when my daughter complained that the odor was burning her nostril. Since I’ve a nostril like bloodhound, I used to be confused. I reached beneath the counter and sniffed the ammonia. It was as if a change had been turned off. I had zero odor or style for 4 weeks.
GARCIA-LEE One evening I used to be laying on the ground, struggling to breathe, with the lights actually low, and I stored saying, “If in 10 minutes it’s as dangerous as it’s now, I’ll name 911.” However I used to be scared to go to the emergency room. I used to be sick for six weeks.
BURSTEIN I used to be within the bathe, and I began coughing up blood, and I assumed, “That is dangerous.” My son walked me over to the hospital. I used to be there six days, and one of many days within the center was significantly troublesome — I’d made peace with dying, as a result of I felt myself going there. I couldn’t breathe. I requested everyone in my texting household to ship me jokes, as a result of I felt the curtain closing, and I assumed the one method I may fight it was with humor.
HURDER I used to be a textbook case — not with the ability to breathe, going into coughing matches. I take care of guilt daily, desirous about how I recovered, as a result of one in all my closest pals, Nick Cordero, is just not right here anymore.
BURSTEIN I heard all these individuals dying round me, and I assumed, “the longer I keep right here, the higher my possibilities of dying.” So I mainly acted up a storm — did my deep respiration workouts from appearing college, something that will assist me elevate my oxygen stage after they have been within the room, and I fooled them, and I fooled myself, and so they let me go house. My spouse wound up getting it as effectively, we’re fairly positive — she misplaced her sense of odor and had horrible complications — however fortunately it wasn’t so extreme.
In late Might, a wave of protests all over the world started, prompted by the killings of Black Individuals by cops. The protests renewed consideration to racial injustice in lots of segments of society, together with the theater.
BOBBY WOOTEN III (bassist) As a Black/Puerto Rican-American, witnessing homicide by the hands of America’s racist justice system was nothing new for me, however corona made it totally different for white America. In America’s collective pause, a veil was lifted.
JACQUELINE ARNOLD (actor) What was stunning was simply how many individuals had no concept that racism was nonetheless this prevalent on this nation.
KHORI PETINAUD (actor) I used to be like, “Welcome! I’m glad everyone’s seeing this now.”
CARMEN PAVLOVIC (lead producer) We needed to say one thing publicly, and shortly, however on the similar time I didn’t need it to look tokenistic or self-righteous. I’ll be actually sincere and say I felt actually afraid of doing the incorrect factor.
BILL DAMASCHKE (producer) We held suggestions periods, and introduced in an out of doors facilitator. We met with each division head to speak about alternatives, on Broadway and on tour.
PETINAUD Having conversations with different Black-identified individuals within the firm was useful for me, earlier than I used to be able to divulge heart’s contents to others. All of us got here in realizing that what we didn’t need to do was naked our Black ache time and again, as a result of we have been thus far past that time. We needed to have actionable conversations.
ARNOLD We’re an enormous present, and now we have a cult following, so now we have to tackle some social accountability. Each iota of the manufacturing needs to be on level. And “Moulin Rouge!”, like different reveals, may benefit from having extra individuals of colour behind the scenes, most positively.
PAVLOVIC I do really feel like we may have carried out higher, and we must always have carried out higher, and we need to do higher.
OLIVO [The actress] Eden Espinosa and I began this nonprofit, AFECT, to coach different artists concerning the enterprise. A part of it’s educating individuals to the inequities, as a result of the numbers are irrefutable.
WOOTEN I began an Instagram video venture that I’m extraordinarily pleased with known as “America, Be taught Your Historical past.” In two-minute episodes, I inform historical past by way of a Black/Puerto Rican lens.
OLIVO I hope that everybody is working to vary the trade and never simply attempting to get again so we are able to fill our coffers once more.
The manufacturing has given money grants of various quantities to firm members, and has provided to assist these going through monetary emergencies. Nonetheless, with no common wage, many say they’re struggling.
DRISCOLL It took me nearly 20 years in NYC to construct up a sustainable freelance musician profession — half of it whereas concurrently working a day job to make ends meet — and it was gone in in the future.
KAUL Getting unemployment advantages took months. I’m going by way of my financial savings at an alarming price, and should determine in a number of months if I may even afford to remain in NYC. I’ve regarded for different work however haven’t discovered something.
TOM BURKE (observe spot operator) “Moulin Rouge!” was going to be my final present, win, lose or draw. I’ll retire with the intention to accumulate my pension. I’m too outdated to start out a brand new profession or aspect hustle.
MICHELLE SESCO (dresser) I’m stitching patches onto journey luggage for method lower than what I used to make at my union job. We’ll see if I’ve to go away my condo, that I’ve been in for 10 years, to sofa surf.
DAVID DIGNAZIO (sound engineer) I’ve had just one paid day of labor since March 12, so cash is a continuing supply of stress.
A considerable quantity have left New York, no less than for now.
PAUL New York didn’t really feel like New York anymore. I received out. I’m in Lawrence, Kansas, traditionally an abolitionist stronghold, and my hometown. I’m engaged on a musical concerning the Harpers Ferry raid of 1859. I’m ready out the pandemic right here, two blocks from my household that I’ve ignored far an excessive amount of as I jetted from contract to contract.
AARON FINLEY (actor) We have been hemorrhaging cash and we would have liked a stress reliever. So we made the choice in mid-June to maneuver out of our home, put our issues in storage and go to Bozeman, Montana, the place I grew up, to be with and close to household. It was one of the best choice we may have made. I firmly imagine we’d have drowned in debt and stress in any other case.
KERRY CANDELORO (visitor companies coordinator) Evidently, shifting again house at age 26 with out work wasn’t what I had in thoughts.
MADJUS I’m 20 kilos heavier since March, however I’m secure, wholesome and am dwelling like a retired senior citizen with my mother and father in Toronto.
Some, significantly performers and musicians, have discovered different work. Catherine Zuber, the costume designer, spent months within the Czech Republic, engaged on a movie model of “Oslo”; Ngaujah stored busy voicing Doomfist for the online game Overwatch.
CURTIS I’m presently again out West auditioning for movie and tv tasks in Los Angeles. It seems like a shot at the hours of darkness to pivot this manner in a pandemic, however it seems like my solely choice till reside theater is again.
RACHEL GOLUB (violist/violinist) Starting in September, small jobs started to trickle in: a recording session, an orchestral video shoot.
CORY SAVAGE (assistant props stagehand) I spent an excellent chunk of October within the props division for the reside seize of Michael Arden’s “Christmas Carol,” filmed uptown. Not a day handed the place you didn’t bear in mind we have been this small handful of individuals in our trade of tens of millions working.
TVEIT I’ve been extraordinarily lucky — I shot a Christmas film in July that got here up out of nowhere, and I used to be in Vancouver for 3 months capturing a brand new musical sequence. However I’m acutely conscious that our trade is gone in the meanwhile.
Many frolicked creating new hobbies, pursuing new strains of labor, even welcoming new members of the family.
ASHLEY RODBRO (affiliate director) I noticed I hadn’t sat nonetheless in years, and I wasn’t positive I even knew the best way to.
GARCIA-LEE I’ve been doing eight reveals per week on Broadway since I used to be 17. I’ve missed all the pieces in my life. So the second I received higher, I used to be like, this second is just not going to be misplaced on me. I used to be a aggressive horseback rider after I was youthful, so I began driving once more. I really like archery, and acquired my first actual bow and arrow set. I purchased a mandolin and began studying the best way to play. I picked up determine skating. I’m actually a toddler at camp.
CAITLIN MOLLOY (hairstylist) I’m presently writing a play with my finest buddy, making child mobiles and placing collectively some quilt coats. I’ve additionally reupholstered some chairs.
DARCY CHEN (dresser) Like many others armed with cloth inventory and a stitching machine, I made face masks.
DEREK MCLANE (scenic designer) I purchased a whole lot of acrylics and oil paints and arrange on the eating room desk. I began by portray our cats.
BURKE I spent a whole lot of time on the seaside. And placed on 25 kilos. And nonetheless watch method an excessive amount of TV.
HONG I’m as much as 125 push-ups per day. After I began I couldn’t do 5 in a row.
JUSTIN TOWNSEND (lighting designer) I’ve been having ballet courses with my 3-year-old. I’ve my very own tutu.
GUTIERREZ My son and I started choosing up trash in and across the park. We then tackled the block we reside on, weeding the tree lawns and replanting them. Individuals observed.
TIEN The one which caught was changing into a “Plant Daddy.” In April, I began with one pothos and now I’ve eighteen totally different vegetation of all sizes scattered round my condo.
NICK GINSBERG (affiliate normal supervisor) Me and my husband adopted a bit of child woman!
NGAUJAH Caring for the infant, my first baby.
PETINAUD I feel getting a number of weeks to relaxation and reset my physique aided me in with the ability to get pregnant. He was born Dec. 29. His title is Carver Elijah Petinaud. It’s wonderful, and onerous, and so many issues directly.
RODBRO I launched my manufacturing firm, Heredia Imaginative and prescient, to make digital content material and supply alternatives for girls in leisure.
CLAYTON I’ve utterly modified careers for the second. I’m now in luxurious actual property.
ARNOLD My spouse and I had began a really small CBD topical enterprise that largely served the Broadway group. Because the pandemic started now we have grown a lot. It retains us afloat by way of funds, and it makes positive that we’re joyful women.
SAM CAHN (actor) I made a decision to enroll on the Bellevue Therapeutic massage Faculty right here in Washington state. I’ll very effectively have found my post-theater profession, however I hope that could be a good distance away.
After a number of delays, on Oct. 15 the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing introduced Tony Award nominees for the abbreviated 2019-20 season. “Moulin Rouge!” scored 14 nods, together with for the present itself, in addition to for the actors Burstein, Hurder, Ngaujah, Olivo and Tveit (who, in a extremely uncommon state of affairs, was the one particular person nominated in his class). Ten months after the final efficiency of the season, an awards ceremony stays unscheduled.
MARCELL A tidal wave of feelings ravaged me. Pleasure. Adrenaline. Confusion. I’ve nobody to congratulate, no present to do at 1,000 % that evening. No group, group. Is celebrating what’s mandatory proper now? I’m swept up.
HURDER I forgot that they have been asserting them, however I received a textual content saying “fingers crossed,” so we watched it. After I noticed my title scroll throughout the display screen, I threw my physique up off the sofa and hurled out this animalistic, barbaric roar, and began crying.
ZUBER I used to be in Prague, and I received a textual content from [the “Oslo” director] Bart Sher saying, “Oh my God, you simply received nominated.” I used to be so excited. It felt for a quick second like life was regular once more.
TVEIT It was a wierd day, due to the circumstance. I used to be so joyful they determined to go ahead with it — it was a wierd yr and a shortened season, however there was a whole lot of nice work carried out. I’ve tried to think about my nomination as recognition of my work and the efficiency. And I did attain out to [“The Lightning Thief” actor] Chris McCarrell, who was the opposite one who may have been nominated — I’ve had a few troublesome Tony mornings, so I perceive what that seems like.
BURSTEIN The nominations got here on a day that was significantly powerful for my spouse, when she was choking and gasping for air. My cellphone was blowing up: “How does it really feel to be nominated?” And I’m attempting to avoid wasting my spouse’s life. It put all the pieces in perspective.
Burstein’s spouse, Rebecca Luker, died of issues from A.L.S. on Dec. 23. She was 59.
BURSTEIN You’re going 900 miles an hour, and abruptly it stops and it’s over and there’s nothing and it goes to zero. You stroll round, and it’s simply you in house. I’ve 23 years of unbelievable recollections, a beautiful marriage and a beautiful friendship, and as loopy because it appears I really feel very blessed and fortunate to have spent these years along with her. However there’s a gap in my chest the place my coronary heart was once.
The producers of “Moulin Rouge!” say this fall is the earliest they will envision returning to Broadway and opening in London, and they’re eyeing subsequent yr for a North American tour. In the meantime, this month they resumed auditions in Australia, hoping they will open a manufacturing in Melbourne in August.
JIM CARNAHAN (casting director) It’s full circle. I got here down final yr to do pre-screens with the Australian casting director, and I used to be right here for per week when Carmen mentioned, “You’ve received to get out.” Now we’re actually choosing up the place we left off.
KARLI DINARDO (dance captain) I’m one in all three Australians within the Broadway firm, so in December I got here again to spend the vacations with my household and assist run the auditions.
DAMASCHKE It must be a for much longer course of, due to security — we are able to see many fewer individuals at a time, and now we have to sanitize the rooms in between. We’re going to livestream the ultimate auditions to New York for the artistic group.
JANET HINE (Australian costume affiliate) There’s about 400 costumes, and there can be about 70 individuals engaged on them — beaders, crystal applicators, shoemakers, milliners. That’s why we’re so enthusiastic about having it begin up.
DINARDO We’ve had a most of 12 individuals auditioning in a room that might, pre-Covid, match effectively over 60. It’s a bit of totally different than we’re used to, with all of the protocols, however I’m excited. It’s a snapshot into our quick future.
Months after they recovered, a number of the Covid survivors are frightened about lingering results.
CLAYTON Each every now and then, like at bedtime, I really feel like I’ve a 25-pound dumbbell on my chest.
GARCIA-LEE I don’t suppose I’ve my full capability again. I’ve began dancing once more, and it simply seems like one thing is off in my chest.
OLIVO I’ve but to go to the physician to take a look at what my lungs seem like, however I do know I’m going to should have somebody look. I sang a tune for a profit, and after I went to get it on tape, I used to be struggling.
HURDER I’m terrified, as a result of my present is so bodily demanding. I’m involved about what that’s going to be like after I return. I suppose we’re going to search out out.
The present’s advance gross sales, as soon as hefty, at the moment are zero. The lead producer says she expects to spend no less than $3 million to restart the present on Broadway. However hope is more and more changing despair.
SONYA TAYEH (choreographer) That’s all now we have now, is dreaming.
SAVAGE I’m so hopeful of Broadway’s return that I’ve not gone to select up my issues from the theater. It’s all simply sitting there.
CLAYTON I think about that our reopening evening can be even larger than our first. The return of Broadway goes to be epic.
ARNOLD The second you hit the stage, and listen to the sound of these snaps within the music, you’re taking your first place and all the pieces goes away. You’re the baddest bitch there may be at that second, and it seems like nothing you’ve ever felt in your life.
TVEIT I can be there with bells on. I can’t wait.
DINARDO Having the prospect to carry out earlier than reside audiences once more goes to be an unbelievable feeling.
BURSTEIN That is my 18th Broadway present, and it will likely be traumatic, little question about it, after I see all my pals once more, and get again on that stage. However that’s OK. There’s one thing concerning the story — that love survives — that’s value telling. And it’s not simply the storytelling, however the friendships I develop over the course of the run. It’s the love that you simply put out, and that you simply obtain in flip, that’s most necessary on the finish of the day.
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