Broadway star Karen Olivo says she won’t return to “Moulin Rouge” once the musical reopens. She’s leaving her Tony-nominated role in protest of the theater industry’s silence on allegations of workplace harassment and abuse leveled against the prolific theater producer Scott Rudin.
“I could easily go back to the show and make a lot of money, but I still wouldn’t be able to control what I was putting out into the world,” Olivo said Wednesday in a video on Instagram. “And what I’m seeing in this space right now, with our industry, is that everybody is scared, and nobody is really doing a lot of the stuff that needs to be done. People aren’t speaking out.”
She specifically called out the behavior of Rudin, who was the subject of a scathing expose in the Hollywood Reporter. The report, published earlier in April, detailed instances of alleged abusive behavior to his employees, including tantrums, racist outbursts and violent behavior.
“The silence about Scott Rudin, unacceptable,” she said. “That one’s easy, y’all. That’s a monster. That should be a no-brainer. Those of you that say you’re scared, what are you afraid of? Shouldn’t you be more afraid of not saying something and more people getting hurt?”
Though Rudin didn’t have a hand in the stage version of “Moulin Rouge,” he is one of Broadway’s most successful producers and remains hugely influential in the theater community. His recent credits include “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Hello, Dolly.” Rudin is currently producing the upcoming revival of “The Music Man,” starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton, which is set to open in 2022.
A representative for Rudin declined to comment on Olivo’s statement.
Before Broadway went dark last March due to the pandemic, “Moulin Rouge” was one of the most popular shows on the Great White Way and received numerous Tony Award nominations. Olivo landed a Tony nod for her portrayal of Satine, the role originated by Nicole Kidman in the 2001 Baz Luhrmann movie musical. She previously won a Tony for playing Anita in the 2009 revival of “West Side Story” and originated the role of Vanessa in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “In the Heights.”
“Social justice is actually more important than being the sparkling diamond,” Olivo said. “Building a better industry for my students is more important than me putting money in my pockets.”
The producers of “Moulin Rouge: The Musical” were supportive of Olivo’s decision to exit, calling her an “indelible influence” on the show.
“‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ is forever indebted to [Karen Olivo‘s] artistry, passion, and craft in creating the role of Satine on stage,” the producers wrote on Twitter. “We applaud and support Karen’s advocacy work to create a safe, diverse, and equitable theater industry for all.”
Moulin Rouge! The Musical is forever indebted to @Karenolivo's artistry, passion, and craft in creating the role of Satine on stage. We applaud and support Karen’s advocacy work to create a safe, diverse, and equitable theater industry for all. pic.twitter.com/YfeVtKqWCv
— Moulin Rouge The Musical – Broadway (@MoulinRougeBway) April 14, 2021
Days prior to Olivo’s announcement, three entertainment industry unions — SAG-AFTRA, Actors’ Equity Association and American Federation of Musicians Local 802 — released a joint statement to condemn workplace harassment, bullying and violent behavior. However, the statement didn’t name Rudin specifically.
“Every corporate Board of Directors should be deeply alarmed by credible reports of long-standing, repeated violent and aggressive harassing behavior by individuals who hold high positions within a company or on a production and exercise management power over subordinates. Workers who come forward to blow the whistle in these situations are incredibly brave and we applaud their courage,” the statement said.
Olivo had recently spoken out against the industry’s inaction but stopped short of calling out anyone in particular.
“Saying ‘that’s just the way our industry is…’ won’t stop people from harm,” she wrote on Twitter earlier this week. “We deserve better especially those who NEED to work. The fiscally vulnerable are most likely to be taken advantage of. My paycheck is not more important than someone’s safety. #useYourPower”
Saying “that’s just the way our industry is…” won’t stop people from harm. We deserve better especially those who NEED to work. The fiscally vulnerable are most likely to be taken advantage of. My paycheck is not more important than someone’s safety.#useYourPower
— Karen Olivo (she/they) (@Karenolivo) April 12, 2021
In her video on Wednesday, Olivo encouraged people to practice humanity and reiterated that money should not be the motivating factor in people’s actions.
“People are more important than your pocketbook,” she concluded. “I want a theater industry that matches my integrity. It’s not here, obviously. Let’s go make it.