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‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ sparkling diamond Liisi LaFontaine: ‘Theatre is so much bigger than just the people you see on stage’

28 January 2022 by Suzy Evans
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Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Liisi LaFontaine as Satine in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. (Photo credit: Johan Persson)

Liisi LaFontaine has been waiting patiently for an opportunity to work in London again, and even though the pandemic slowed down the process, she’s finally back on the West End stage in Moulin Rouge! The Musical, descending from the ceiling as the “sparkling diamond” Satine each night at the Piccadilly Theatre. 

The American performer, who last starred as Deena in Dreamgirls on this side of the pond, knows that she might not be what some audience members expect when they think of the cabaret chanteuse, originated by Nicole Kidman in Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film about the Parisian nightclub and its many denizens. 

“I feel like in the last five years — more than any other time — we’ve realized how important representation is and how valuable it is and how lucrative it is,” LaFontaine says. “It’s not a gimmick. There’s just a lot of people who look like a lot of different things. And so, when we can represent everybody, you make it more accessible and fun and inviting.” 

She hopes that audience members can see themselves in her and that she might inspire a new generation and community of theatre fans to attend a show for the first time. 

“Theatre already can feel a little indulgent or a little exclusive,” she says. “So I think that the more people can walk past a poster and see someone and be like, ‘Oh, she kind of looks like me,’ that might encourage someone who’s never seen a show to come and see a show that they wouldn’t think that they would otherwise.”

“I do have really high hopes for what we can do with theatre accessibility and how we can start to bring more people in,” she continues. “Hopefully, someone will read this interview and will be like, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll go and check that out.’ And then they’ll become a theatre fan. They’ll become obsessed. They’ll be in another show in a week.”

Find out more about the Moulin Rouge! The Musical star below!

Book tickets to Moulin Rouge! The Musical in London on TodayTix.

Theatre is a community builder.

“I feel like we’re creating this kind of cult classic, but in a community way that theatre does. You come to the theatre by yourself and you’re sitting next to someone, so you start talking to them and then they’re obsessed. And then you guys both book tickets to come back and suddenly they become your friend.

“Going to the theatre is such a collective experience that sometimes you can’t get from a film that I feel like Moulin Rouge! truly deserves. So it’s really exciting to be a part of this new version. It’s a really hard role, but it’s so fun to do. It’s so fun to do. And hearing the responses from girls who look like me, who are just like, ‘Oh, I did not think I would see you come down from on the trapeze.’ It was just so cool.”

Every seat in the theatre is a good one.

“I was in the very last row of the theatre [when I saw Moulin Rouge! The Musical in New York]. But that’s how you know it’s an amazing show, because it didn’t matter where you were sitting. It’s such an immersive experience. The lights are surrounding you. They’re pulsing when the music’s pulsing, and I was hooked.”

Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Jamie Bogyo as Christian and Liisi LaFontaine as Satine in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. (Photo credit: Johan Persson)

Theatre is cathartic.

Even though (spoiler alert), Satine’s ending is a sad one, LaFontaine thinks the redeeming nature of the story can be cathartic in these difficult times. 

“There’s such a redemption arc in the way that death happens and all of the beautiful things that it sparks, and how everyone still comes together at the end and celebrates this space and the legacy. The whole show is Christian telling the story of this woman’s life, so I feel like there’s something so powerful in it and something that people I feel like who’ve just lost someone can find some relief in. It’s definitely a tricky moment to be telling a story like this, but I feel like it’s cathartic in a sense.”

On working in London

“London is just such a special city, and for me living in L.A. and New York, I feel like it’s kind of the baby of both, but then [London is] more, I would say, the grandma because it’s definitely much older than both of those states. But it has the open space of L.A. It has the nature and the parks of California. And then it has the hustle and the multiculturalism and the city feel of New York. Also, it has the history and the architecture of Europe. And so, it’s just kind of like a beautiful melting pot of all the things that I love and working here was so amazing. The community, the theatre community, is so strong and hilarious and fun and colorful.”

Moulin Rouge! The Musical’s pop score helps reach new audiences. 

“Everybody’s heard these pop songs, so you can come into the show and you’ll hear something recognizable whether you’re 5 or 95. There’s something that you’ve heard before… I’ve been singing my whole life, and there’s so much interesting interpretation you can do vocally with pop and R&B, and traditional musical theatre isn’t as free. So I feel like it’s such a treat to be able to do this show and sing songs that are recognizable, but they’re these cool mashups you haven’t heard before.”

Theatre is so much bigger than what you see on stage. 

“There’s so many people we can reach that we haven’t really tried to reach. When I did regional theatre, the school visits where they would bus in a bunch of high school students, those audiences were the craziest audiences I’ve ever had. It’s just kids who’ve maybe never even seen a show, who are also teenagers, who are also surrounded by all their friends. And it’s just this crazy experience they’re all sharing together. 

“I think just realizing that theatre is so much bigger than just the people you see on stage. It’s the producers. It’s the lighting design. It’s the sound. It’s the band. It’s the costumes. There’s so many people involved that go into creating beautiful theatre and there’s so many spaces for everybody.”