When “Moulin Rouge” re-opened on Broadway Friday night after COVID-19 shut its doors, Robyn Hurder returned to the production not just as one of its stars, but as a Tony nominee.
At Sunday night’s award show, Hurder is up for best performance by a featured actress in a musical for her role as Nini. Before the ceremony, Hurder spoke with Variety about the honor, returning to Broadway and reuniting with her castmates.
How are you feeling leading up to tonight’s Tonys as a nominee?
I live in the moment and I’m pretty good at doing that. But I’m not going to lie, it all feels a little bit crazy. This is on the same level as your senior prom and your wedding day – it’s all day of getting ready.
How has it been reuniting with your cast?
It’s amazing to be back together. We have a third new cast. There are a lot of new people and a lot of Broadway debuts. Their energy brings so much more to the show. When you see someone on an opening night and it’s their Broadway debut, it’s like it’s your Broadway debut all over again. We’re so genuinely happy with all the new additions, especially Natalie [Mendoza who replaced Tony-nominee Karen Olivo as Satine].
What was it like the first time everyone reunited?
Everybody has a different reaction. I didn’t know how I was I was going to react on my first day of rehearsal. I will say, I was okay. But I’m also the queen of delayed reactions.
It wasn’t until I was walking to my first day back and I crossed the street on the route that I always would take with my best friend, Max Clayton, who is no longer in the show. But it hit me. I got really sad, and I was like, “I miss Max and I can’t believe he’s not going to be here at rehearsal with me.” And then he Facetimed me, and I lost it. I had a total breakdown. Everything built up from the past 16 months… I just, it all fell out on the phone with him. It was the perfect release that I needed to walk back in. It almost felt like a clean slate.
How have things changed coming back?
We’re not doing “Moulin Rouge” back in 2019, we’re doing this one, we’re doing this version. And I think this version is brilliant and beautiful and stepping back into the theater, you get that energy again. You know that you’re walking back into something special, and we’re gonna make a lot of people happy. It’s intense. There’s a lot of energy going on in that theater.
How has performing in this show changed from pre-pandemic?
Everybody’s different. It’s not just us that our perspective has changed, it’s the audience. People are realizing how important it is that we need live theater, how much we need live art in our lives. It’s a bounce back and forth from the audience to the cast. It’s why I do it. I literally call it my drug. I just love performing on stage for an audience and feeling that energy, and hearing how we are taking them to a place for two-and-a-half hours.
How did you prepare for the physicality of the show?
I was trying my best months leading up [to prepare]. The three months that I was like, “Okay, it’s go time,” I didn’t really take dance classes, but I did so much jump rope and dance cardio and weightlifting and stuff like that just to get strength and my cardiovascular shape back. The thing is, there’s no way I’m getting back into shape until I start doing the material. The stuff that I do in the show is so wild and unnatural. There’s nothing I could do on my own to replicate what I need to do to condition myself – it’s purely the choreography.
The cast of “Moulin Rouge” was really affected by COVID in the cast.
“Moulin Rouge” got slammed. We all got COVID. It was right at the beginning.
What was March 12 like for you when Broadway announced it was shutting down?
There are days in your life you don’t remember, and then there are days where you remember every single moment. That’s March 12 for me. It’s burned in my memory forever.
[Our company manager shared] one of our cast members came down with symptoms that resembled COVID… they made the decision to cancel both shows. We were so naïve. Instantly we were like, “Oh, awesome. Day off.” I was like “Okay great, I get to go home and see my son.” Thirty minutes after we had that meeting, my phone blows up that all the Broadway shows are being canceled.
Then the shutdown extended…
My real breakdown was when the first extension happened. I couldn’t stop crying for two to three days. I couldn’t get it together. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I’m a pretty positive, strong person and I was not okay.
I think all of it together [getting COVID, the extension and loss of Broadway star and friend Nick Cordero] was just… I crashed. Then you get better and then a few months later I was like, “Oh, dang, I really love being home.” This whole 18 months have been such a roller coaster.
But tonight you get to celebrate!
I still can’t believe I got nominated for friggin’ Tony. Let me tell you, that was not on my radar. I’m just grateful to be in this moment.
[My husband, Clyde Alves] is not leaving my side, all night. He’s been glued to me. I’m here because of him. This boy has kept me together. He is my everything. I’m still here, I’m still doing musical theater because of him. It’s the biggest night of my career. How could he not be right next to me?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.