Meet the Bohemians: Chris & Olivia

By Milo Hartill |

The importance of representation and inclusion in its many forms and the weight that their performances has for audiences who have never felt seen on stages before, has not been lost on actors Chris Scalzo and Olivia Vásquez. For many, witnessing the spectacle of Moulin Rouge! The Musical and its notions of Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love, in a cast depicting the diversity of the real world has been a first.

Olivia Vásquez has found empowerment within the magnitude of the show, sometimes forgetting how big the show can be, especially to people seeing it for the first time.” As soon as the curtain opens, [and] you hear the audience [cheer], it’s very empowering because I feel with the Lady M’s, we are one, but we are many,” serving as representation to such a vast group of marginalised and/or oppressed people, that are often not showcased on Australian stages 8 times a week, it reminds her to be confident with who she is.

“I feel like it’s very liberating for me to portray and play with the character. [The Moulin Rouge! team] were adamant I could play and find [my] own character, as opposed to ‘this is how [the character] is,’ instead being ‘what do you bring to it’…that’s liberating as an actor, [and] because [Arabia] doesn’t give a flying hoot what people think, she stands her ground.”

Similarly, Chris Scalzo felt “being gifted the role of Babydoll [was] literally a gift” and that he was “so thankful and grateful to be a part of something of this magnitude, playing something so unique.” “What I appreciate so much about playing the role is this very brilliant fusion of vulnerability and strength and how they play off each other, how vulnerability is strength and strength is also vulnerability” said Chris when asked about how he felt the show empowered him as a performer, using what the world of the show has surrounded him with to find “how [he can] turn [his] vulnerability into strength.”

“What being a company member of Moulin Rouge and playing Babydoll allows me to do within my own representation of queerness,” Chris being an out and proud gay man for most of his life, “is to not be remotely self-conscious about my physicality giving something away, which otherwise might have made me feel vulnerable or otherwise in a place of harm.” Feeling as though within the confines of “this magical fantasy world” Chris doesn’t need to worry about his physical expression and/or expression of queerness being judged.

There is a stigma that the Musical Theatre performance genre often make casting or character choices which represent only a small amount of people, as the theatre world progresses, we are seeing this expand. Allowing room for many to feel they can express things like queerness, and audiences to feel represented or included in this way. This also extends to physical expression in other forms, typically including a lack of body diversity on our stages. Moulin Rouge! The Musical steps outside of the box in this area and sets a new standard, allowing a wider variety of people to sit at the table in the company, and allow audiences to feel it’s a story they can connect to.

“It’s very empowering being a curvy woman, being a woman [in this show] and dancing [my] ass off,” said Vásquez, describing the power of inclusivity in theatre and being able to represent curvier people in taking on the role of Arabia in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. “I love how confident [Arabia] is, there’s no room to not be confident, and that is such a facet of [my] experience, in being a curvy short woman; we don’t see a lot of that on stage in this art form.”

“To be here and get to do [Moulin Rouge!] every day, and then seeing the faces of the audiences that get encouraged and inspired by seeing [us] is a really special thing,” says Chris discussing his understanding of the effect of the show and its true spectacle for all, adding “I am the original MOULIN ROUGE! the movie stan (an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan), the film changed my life because of the eclectic energy and atmosphere and diversity of the madness of the creative world that was represented through Baz Luhrmann’s vision, and the sense of free flowing bohemian spirit.”

Central ideologies to queerness and empowerment, and a clear factor in contributing to the alignment of the show, the movie, the Lady M’s and queer representation are that of “the themes of the [Moulin Rouge]; freedom, beauty, truth and love,” but the one Olivia and her character Arabia “really resonate with is freedom. Freedom to be who you are. Freedom to be who you want to be and who you’re evolving to be.”

Both Chris and Olivia emphasised the love and familial bond between the characters and cast, and that there is strength in being able to represent queerness, vulnerable physicality, inclusivity while feeling empowered, where audiences can relate to at least one member of the ensemble, specifically the Lady M’s, and in Olivia’s words; “family can be anyone” and “everyone is welcome here.”