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‘Moulin Rouge!’ Star Karen Olivo Won’t Return To Broadway Production In Rudin Protest; Producers Express Support – Update

Greg Evans
·5 min read

UPDATE, with Moulin Rouge producers’ statement Karen Olivo, the Tony-nominated star of Broadway hit musical Moulin Rouge!, will not return to the production when the industry re-opens in protest of what she says is the industry silence over the workplace harassment and abuse claims levied against film and theater producer Scott Rudin.

“Social justice is more important than being the sparkling diamond,” referencing one of their big Moulin Rouge! numbers in a scathing Instagram video today. “Building a better industry for my students is more important than me putting money in my pockets. Building a better industry – I’m yelling now – building a better industry is more important than putting money in my pockets.

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Moulin Rouge! producers Carmen Pavlovic and Bill Damaschke released a statement to Deadline confirming Olivo’s departure and expressing support for the actress. (Rudin is not a producer of Moulin Rouge!).

“We can confirm that Karen Olivo will not return to the production when the show resumes performances on Broadway,” the statement reads. “Moulin Rouge! The Musical is forever indebted to Karen Olivo’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. Karen has been an indelible influence on our show from its beginning, and words cannot properly express our gratitude. We wish Karen great success, and above all, love.”

Watch Olivo’s Instagram video below.

“For all of ya’ll who don’t hear me, the silence about Scott Rudin – unacceptable. Unacceptable,” Olivo said. “That’s the easy one, ya’ll. That’s a monster. That should be a no-brainer…What is your integrity saying you should do? You going to protect your pocket book and let people go to the emergency room, so you can go to your next concert?”

Olivo’s announcement comes two days after three theater unions – SAG-AFTRA, Actors’ Equity Association and American Federation of Musicians Local 802 – condemned workplace harassment and called on “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.”

Though the unions did not name Rudin, the statement followed last week’s Hollywood Reporter story detailing allegations by four former employees of Rudin about what they say is the producer’s volatile and sometimes violent behavior. The employees described a toxic workplace environment in which the famously temperamental producer repeatedly berated, verbally, and in at least one case, physically, abused and fired assistants. The article included accounts of Rudin throwing objects like a potato, a tea cup, a stapler and a laptop during his temper tantrums and, in one case, allegedly smashed a computer monitor onto an assistant’s hand, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.

In their announcement today, Olivo, who won a Tony Award for her performance in the 2009 Broadway revival of West Side Story, addressed their colleagues and peers: “What is your integrity saying you should do? You going to protect your pocket book and let people go to the emergency room, so you can go to your next concert?”

Olivo is one of musical theater’s biggest stars, having performed in the Tony-winning In the Heights and the Chicago production of Hamilton. Until her announcement, she was expected to her lead role of Satine in Moulin Rouge!, for which she is currently nominated for a Tony.

“I could easily go back to a show and make a lot of money,” Olivo said, “but I still wouldn’t be able to really control what I was putting out into the world.” The actress said she was posting her statement on Instagram because “I don’t want anyone to spin why I’m not coming back to Moulin Rouge! You heard it from me.”

Olivo said in their video that she was speaking out in part “for my students who still dream about making art because they don’t know the bullshit that’s out here…I want a theater industry that matches my integrity. C’mon y’all, why don’t we go make it. It’s not here, obviously. Let’s go make it.”

Rudin has not commented on the allegations.

Moulin Rouge!, like all Broadway productions, is currently suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown. One of the biggest hits of the 2019-20 Broadway season, the show is nominated for 14 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Olivo) and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Aaron Tveit, the sole nominee in the category). Nominations were announced last fall, but a ceremony date has not been set pending the resumption of Broadway performances.

Following Olivo’s statement today, Hailey Kilgore, who received a 2018 Tony Award nomination for her role in Once on This Island and will next be seen in the upcoming Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, posted a four-part tweet saying, in part, “…I cannot help but think about the artists, stagehands, crew members who have YEARS and SHOWS on me who have stayed suffering in silence as they show up, show OUT, and stun audiences 8XS A WEEK. It breaks my heart to see that to some privilege, money, and fame is priority…If we aren’t united… What are we?”

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