Hi! It’s Annie!
One of the musicals that has recently gotten a complete life of its own due to the internet, is ‘Moulin Rouge!’. While this musical began as a movie; the musical is really what’s been impressive since it came back over the pandemic. Partly because of its clever mix of original music and recent popular music. The musical has been known to change songs in different musical mash-ups during the show in order to reflect what is currently popular in the music industry. But what really caused the musical to blow up over the past several months is one particular former lead actor; the amazing Aaron Tveit. Aaron Tveit is well known for being one of the best Broadway actors out there and has played leads in everything from ‘Wicked’, to ‘Rent’, to ‘Next to Normal’. He’s so well known that he was even tagged by the comedy musical series ‘Schmigadoon’ to play a role. Recently he decided to leave his role as Christian in ‘Moulin Rouge!’ after three years of playing the character, and in his stead they cast Derek Klena (who has massive shoes to fill). Many people are now claiming that Klena shouldn’t have been cast at all. This is a usual response to a beloved actor leaving, but I want to examine some of the reasons as to why this was said and why Aaron Tveit has been so influential in playing this role. Possible SPOILERS for ‘Moulin Rouge!’ ahead!
As I kind of mentioned before, part of the reason why ‘Moulin Rouge!’ was trending in the first place was because of Aaron Tveit. The most popular song from the movie has always been ‘El Tango de Roxanne’ sung by Ewan McGregor; a cover of the original song by ‘The Police’ mixed with original lyrics and music by the musical composer. And while Aaron Tveit was always amazing singing as the character of Christian, it was what he came back with after the pandemic that blew up the internet. During his first performance back from break, Aaron Tveit optioned up at the end of ‘El Tango de Roxanne’. If you don’t know what optioning up is, it’s pretty simple. It means that instead of singing the song with a lower note of finality, he decided to expand the note and go higher. This note is now and forever an Aaron Tveit note for the character and was so good that it gained mass interest during a time where Broadway isn’t really getting as much popularity. On top of this, he also sings that particular song with so much passion that many people were calling it one of the best acting Broadway moments of all time. He even won a Tony for this performance. And the fact that he only started gaining recognition for this after quarantine and now he’s leaving means that some of this fame is still fairly fresh. So how do you replace an amazing performer like Aaron Tveit? Especially when he is the originator of the role as a musical on Broadway?
The real answer to the above question is pretty simple. You don’t. You can’t look for another Aaron Tveit, because you aren’t going to find one. And I think that might be a part of why Derek Klena is struggling so much. If you haven’t heard of Derek Klena; he’s probably just as popular as Aaron Tveit. While Derek Klena is definitely newer to the Broadway community than Aaron; Derek took Broadway by storm. There are not many people on Broadway, or in general, who have the natural charisma and charm that Derek Klena naturally has. He particularly blew up for his portrayal of Dmitry in the Broadway musical ‘Anastasia’; a role that redefined what it meant to play a male love interest in a princess-based musical. Derek Klena has been lovingly nicknamed the Flynn Rider of Broadway. And I’m sure if there was actually a ‘Tangled’ musical made, there would be an uproar in the Broadway community if Klena wasn’t cast in that role. So why is it that now many in the Broadway community are angry at him being cast as Christian in ‘Moulin Rouge!’? Because his start as Christian hasn’t necessarily been the smoothest in the last couple months. Now that Aaron Tveit made the move of optioning up the last note in ‘El Tango de Roxanne’ popular all over the internet, the Broadway musical seems to be unwilling to give the note up. Even though Derek Klena is not able to hit this note. Klena also does not have the same vocal range as Tveit. This has caused the Broadway musical to lower the pitch of a few songs to try and better fit Klena’s voice. Does this make Klena miscast?
I am completely up in the air as to whether or not I think Klena is miscast in this role. Keep in mind that I’m a little biased as Derek Klena has been one of my favorite Broadway actors for years now. But so has Aaron Tveit and I think it’s pretty clear that no one can do this role as well as Tveit can. Finding another Aaron Tveit would be impossible. But that doesn’t mean that Derek Klena was the best for the role. While this isn’t as bad as casting an actual celebrity that doesn’t fit the role, this does feel a bit like celebrity casting on a smaller scale to me. Celebrity casting has been controversial in the past for a variety of reasons, such as giving the role to a well known name instead of one of the hardworking people who have trained their entire lives for a Broadway role. Fortunately, it seems this kind of casting is meeting less tolerance than it ever has. In the catastrophic incident that involved ‘Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812’, Mandy Patinkin was set to play a role that was then being played by ‘Hamilton’ alum Okieriete Onaodowan who was the first black man to play Pierre. This mix of celebrity casting and racism caused so much backlash that Mandy Patinkin himself withdrew from the show, correctly thinking that his own casting was wrong. Oak, having already been told to leave, was angry and left anyways. The show closed not that long after. Except for in ‘Mean Girls’, the rest of Broadway has been wary to celebrity cast since. So Derek Klena’s casting could be an attempt at it without getting a non-Broadway celebrity. Derek Klena is one of the most popular faces of Broadway right now. And how better to replace a beloved Broadway actor than adding in another Broadway actor, right?
Well, maybe not. As I’ve said before, Klena’s range doesn’t exactly fit the character of Christian. People have been mass sharing Klena’s performances over the past several months, and it is clear that he struggles throughout ‘El Tango de Roxanne’. That isn’t to say that he’s bad. He’s a Broadway actor! But his voice does crack at parts even though you can hear that he really is trying. Many have claimed that taking the pitch lower to fit his voice might have been a misstep as it doesn’t actually seem to fit his voice. His voice is too high for the very low notes now and too low for the very high ones. Currently on the tour of ‘Moulin Rouge’ (which I am hoping to possibly see sometime soon), the role of Christian is being played by one Conor Ryan. A man with a similar range to Aaron. While Conor doesn’t usually option up at the end of ‘El Tango de Roxanne’, the performance doesn’t seem to suffer for it. He doesn’t seem to struggle with the vocals at all and is able to deliver just as passionate of a performance. A lot of people would say that this is proof that the role is not in Derek’s vocal range and that he is miscast. But I have a small issue with this too. Though Aaron Tveit originated the role on Broadway, the role was actually kind of originated by Ewan McGregor. And though he has a pretty good singing voice, his vocal range is also lower than Aaron Tveit’s and his singing voice is nowhere as versatile as Derek Klena.
Following Aaron Tveit, Klena may have been miscast for this role. But all things considered, I’m not entirely sure he is a complete miscast. People were blown away with how much quality and passion Aaron Tveit could bring to the role and I’m sure our view of Christian will never be the same again. But this role was created to be flexible in who it fit. I think they could make a version of this show that fit Derek if they just worked with him. And that doesn’t mean lowering the pitch, but it does mean making sure everyone knows it’s ok if he doesn’t hit the same notes as Aaron. I think this show could work for Klena if they tried. Does this still make him the best choice to be in this role following Aaron Tveit especially when there are other actors on Broadway with a more fitting vocal range to the new expectations? Probably not. This is why I am fully convinced that Klena is both miscast and not miscast for this role. Can he do it if he has more time and more help from creative minds for the musical? Yes. Does that make him the best choice? No. While I love Derek Klena, so far this isn’t looking like his role. But he’s only been working at it for a few months and I am fully ready to give him another chance as long as the musical will work with him to make sure that he even has a chance to do this better. You have a fully trained Broadway actor up there. Usually when a fully trained Broadway actor is experiencing voice cracks every night; the problem is somewhere behind the scenes. Either with casting or with trying to blend the actor in. Klena has not suddenly forgotten how to sing.
Sorry for all of the ranting, but I love both Aaron and Derek so much and it hurts to see them pit against each other like this. Especially since I have been a fan of both of them for so long. I hate seeing anyone hate on Derek Klena and it’s weird to see people accuse Broadway of celebrity casting another Broadway actor. But oddly, that seems to exactly be what’s been done here. Derek Klena is no less talented than he always was and I don’t blame him for wanting this role. Especially with how much Covid has taken out of Broadway, it is currently difficult for even the most popular Broadway actors to find work. And Christian is a great role that’s pretty desirable right now! I hope that in the coming months he’ll prove that he’s perfect for this role. But I can’t disagree when some people say that it isn’t necessarily looking great so far. And blaming Klena for this is misguided and does nothing. I want to repeat again, I don’t hate Derek Klena in this role. I don’t hate him in any role. He’s one of my favorite Broadway actors. My only opinion here is that if the Broadway musical wanted someone to carry on the TikTok popularity of Tveit, Klena was not the way to go. But If they are willing to give that up for the sake of better blending an actor into the show, which they seem unwilling to do, then maybe they shouldn’t be trying to force Klena into their mold. He’s good without it!
See you across the pond!