Meet the Bohemians: Anica, Clay & Devon

By Catherine Lambert |

Reaching the career pinnacle of Moulin Rouge! The Musical has been a journey of great distance, emotion and reward for some cast members.

Travelling from the other side of the world, complying with quarantine measures on arrival and leaving an old life behind are just some of the challenges that made the quest to be part of the stellar Australian cast even more rewarding.

Ensemble member and La Chocolat cover Anica Calida explains her affinity with Moulin Rouge! began as soon as she saw it in New York in 2019 but her sense of belonging in Australia goes back even further.

She was part of both The Lion King and Aladdin Australian tours. When she went back home to the United States in 2018 to branch out from dancing and pursue acting as well, Australia was still calling.

“As much as the opportunities are plentiful and bountiful in New York, you can fall into the trap of going to every single audition and I have a love/hate relationship with that city,’’ Calida says.

“It’s quite a different beast to live there. I was in and out of New York from the age of 18 to 30 and didn’t have anything else to compare it with until I got to Australia. I remember sitting in a boutique pilates studio one day a couple of years ago over there, hating life and thinking `I want to go back to Australia.’ I’m on the other side of that now.’’

The show’s four tenets, `Truth, Beauty, Freedom and above all Love’, struck a deep emotional chord in the Boston-born artist. With Broadway closed last year, no sign of being able to return to Australia and a restless yearning in her heart, she had begun to plan a new career away from the stage.

Then a friend told her Moulin Rouge! was opening auditions so she hired a studio to record her dance and voice tapes. Luckily, she was granted an appointment to audition after sending in her video submission.

“That was confirmation that everything was aligned and I just had to put it all out there,’’ she says.

“I’ve been experiencing big magic in my life ever since. I really think that it’s such a holistic experience with this production company [Global Creatures].  I feel really grounded and held. They’ve created a really authentic family feeling of wanting everyone to shine and do their best so everyone feels important.”

“I’m also so happy that this is putting Australia on the map. The artists here are so great, full of positive energy, really hard working and super talented and it’s a beautiful, stunning show. I’m so proud to be part of it and I feel so nourished by the culture and atmosphere in Melbourne which has an effect on how I show up as an artist.”

“If I were never to do another show, I could happily say that I feel really full now.’’

Being stretched by Sonya Tayeh’s extraordinary choreography adds to that sense of accomplishment. The show’s dancers say they are dancing in new, more challenging ways than they ever have before.  Fellow ensemble member Clay Roberts began dancing as a child living on a small farm in a tiny town on the north island of New Zealand, Otorohanga.

Tap classes led to a musical theatre bug, relocating to Auckland when he was 13 and moving to Australia in 2011 where he was accepted into the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. He’s performed around the world in productions of Cats, West Side Story and was part of the US national tour of Frozen when it was shut down because of the pandemic, interrupting his dream to make it on Broadway.

“Coming to Moulin Rouge! after working overseas with a massive range of different people has really helped me as a dancer and definitely expanded me as an actor,’’ Roberts says.

“It feels so good to be back here even though the US chapter is still a bit open to me. It was cut short and I’d like to continue that journey of doing a Broadway show so I may potentially go back and give it another go, but in the meantime I’m very excited to be here though – it’s a while since I’ve done a show with this heavy amount of dance.”

“It’s amazing to dance in a new way with Sonya’s choreography and my body’s definitely shocked but I’m getting used to it and taking very good care of my body.’’

There are days during rehearsals when ensemble member Devon Braithwaite modestly suffers imposter syndrome. Even though he’s been dancing since he was two years old and living in South Africa, the chance to dance in the show’s “Roxanne” number has been so overwhelming at times that he finds himself becoming emotional.

“I grew up watching MOULIN ROUGE! and Roxanne is one of the most iconic numbers on film and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to dance in the first place,’’ Braithwaite says.

“Now it’s my job. It’s what I do. I get to give this experience to other people who come to watch the show. It’s magical. The whole message of the show is playing, living life and making every day a performance.’’

He has long regarded Australia home, despite living between South Africa, Dubai, Boston, London and Sydney, and feels so comfortable here that he can simply focus on being an artist.

“I adore Melbourne because it has such an artists’ culture,’’ he says.

“I’ve lived in London where there’s such a theatre culture and it’s the same here. People respect the theatre and it’s part of people’s lives here which is really wonderful to have that respect. It affects what I do because dancing is everything to me. It’s my therapy, it’s my exercise and my mum says she can tell when I haven’t been dancing for a while because I become moody.”

“Also in the show, there’s no hierarchy. Everyone is there to tell a story and everyone is equally important.’’

About Catherine Lambert: Working as the Arts Editor of the Herald Sun for more than 30 years gave Catherine a dream career, countless opportunities to gain precious insights into the artistic process and encourage audiences throughout Australia, but especially Victoria, to be discerning, loyal theatre goers. Since leaving the Herald Sun in 2020, her love of arts is as fresh as ever, contributing regularly for a range of publications.