Debut of the Month: Yes, He Can Can Can! MOULIN ROUGE!'s Jeigh Madjus
Jeigh Madjus makes his Broadway debut as 'Babydoll' in MOULIN ROUGE! - THE MUSICAL. The theatrical adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's revolutionary film features a musical mash-up extravaganza, celebrating the Bohemian values of truth, beauty, freedom and above all, love. Today the talented actor speaks to BroadwayWorld about making his debut and his unique journey to the Broadway stage.
[NOTE: BroadwayWorld's fabulous photographer Walter McBride captures images of the Broadway stars profiled in our monthly column in a special photo shoot. Check out the pics of Jeigh Madjus throughout the feature!]
Congratulations on the success of MOULIN ROUGE! I have to begin by asking about your bio, in which you included your credits as a waiter, a construction worker and an ayurvedic spa receptionist. It sounds like you had an interesting journey to the stage.
Well I've always been performing, I've always been singing. I was actually in a pop group when I was a kid, and then I slowly went into musical theater when I went to a performing arts high school in Toronto, where I'm from. That's where I honed into my musical theater side. And then I pursued musical theater in college after that. And then I sang on cruise ships for a little bit, and between coming home from cruise ships after two and a half years, and doing regional theater in Canada, that's when I worked as a waiter, and my friends owned an ayurvedic spa, so for a year I worked there as a front desk receptionist. And when I would get a show, they would give me the time off and then I would come back again to my job. So it was really my survival job. Working in construction was another job I did. I had just finished a show and I was like, 'I need work for the next five months,' so I would be there with my iPod on and digging myself into ditches under houses which were literally so deep that they would have to lower a ladder to get me out of them! And all the while I would be listening to my iPod and singing songs from WICKED and music from Celine Dion, just to get me through the day. And between the Boston run of this show and coming here, I worked as a waiter again, clearing plates, wiping tables, serving people.
The life of an actor!
Yes it is. So when I included these things in my bio, I did it a little tongue and cheek and a little humorous, but I also wanted people to see my journey. You know for me, people assume because I'm making my Broadway debut, that I am younger than I actually am, but I'm proud to say I'll be turning thirty-six next month and I'm making my debut. So everybody's journey is completely different. Some people get out of school and book a job immediately, but sometimes it takes fourteen plus years to get here. And I knew out of the gate that I don't usually fit the bill. There have always been people realistically telling me how specific I am, that it will take a very specific role like Baby Doll in this show to get me here. So I wanted to put my journey in there because sometimes people are ashamed if they're not performing, they don't want to talk about the other stuff. But for me, I feel its the other stuff that gives you the texture to your performance and the texture to your life. And it seems a little cliche, but you have to do what you have to do.
You mentioned your character Baby Doll, who is a drag queen who performs at The Moulin Rouge. In many ways, it is his personal situation that raises the stakes of this story.
The role of Baby Doll was actually bigger when I first got the script, but it was amazing for me to see a character that I could really relate to, and who had a sense of safety and belonging within this kind of theater family. And yes the character does raise the stakes because if the club closes, he doesn't have the luxury of just going on to the next show. For him, it really is important that people understand that this theater is a place of safety for him, and if the show closes, his life may be in real danger. When we were in Boston, we had a scene that took place in Satine's dressing room where I take off my wig and reveal that I am a man. And then when they had to move that scene out of her dressing room, there was no longer a chance for me to take off the wig, so people just assumed that I was a woman on stage. And so I said to [director] Alex [Timbers], "I think it is very important that I take off my wig because if people just think I'm one of the girls, then you don't really get the effect of the stakes, of what this character will lose if the club actually closes. They need to know that I'm a man." So we figured out how to include that moment in the show, and I think it's an important one. So yes, I love playing this character and discovering more about him. As soon as I booked it, I created a mood board on Pinterest and started looking up female impersonator performers during that time period and researching things that might intrigue them and styles they may have worn. So it's been really fun to originate and to create this character.
So many iconic pop songs have been added to the stage adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's movie. I'm wondering what it was like the first time you and the rest of the cast learned which songs would be included in the score.
It's so funny because when you hear how the audience reacts to these songs, we had all those exact same reactions when we first heard it! [Music Supervisor] Justin Levine is a friend of mine because I've worked with him for so long on HERE LIES LOVE, and I remember looking at him when I first heard these new songs and saying, "really?" and, "this is insane!" And it's funny because some of the songs are just familiar to us as white noise in the background or as the soundtrack of our lives, but the way they use them is just so smart. And sometimes they'll take little snippets that fit exactly what you need for that moment, and musically and lyrically it's all correct. And sometimes it's funny because people will laugh when they realize how that little snippet or that one line makes so much sense in the context of what's happening. So yes, from the first moment even until now, I still laugh at and am surprised by the music - it's just so intelligently crafted for the show and makes them so much more than just pop songs.
What has it been like working with this cast of Broadway veterans and what have you learned from them?
It's really been a magical experience both on stage and off. I've learned so much by watching and observing, the way people work or the way people negotiate in working. I feel like I'm in my masters of performance college right now because it's like on-site training where I'm learning from people who are at the top of their game. Learning things like conservation of your energy and sustaining through a run like this and through a show like this that is truly exhausting. So I have learned so much from everybody on every level. Other than the people making their debuts with the show, I think most people in the cast have at least four or five shows under their belt, so most people have done a lot of shows. I'll be honest it was a little intimidating at first. I always feel that Canadian inferiority every time I come here. [laughing] You know in the Toronto theater community I know a lot of people, and the same thing is true here for all the people who have been working in New York; they know each other from auditioning and workshopping and working together. So every time I come here I always feel like I'm the new person and most people know each other from working on other things. So it was a little intimidating at first, but as talented as this cast is, they have been as nice and as welcoming and I just have loved learning and experiencing so much with them over the last two years of this process.
What is the message you hope audiences will take away with them after seeing the show?
You know the show is always highlighting the Bohemian ideas of truth, freedom, beauty and love. But I think it's love that is the most important thing that I'd like audiences to take with them. There's a lot of divisiveness happening in the world today on various levels, and sometimes you can lose that sense of unconditional love. And I'm not just talking about romantic love, there's a compassion element of love that can change the way you live your life and the way you treat people, and if you act with love, it spreads throughout the world. And also, when you see our show you see this diverse, individual cast, and I want the audience to see the acceptance of that and the highlighting of our differences. I was talking to Catherine Martin after one of the shows and she said, "I just love how all of you are so different and how you're so unique and you get to be that person on the stage." So that's another thing I hope people will notice and take away with them as well.
And finally, what was it like to make your Broadway debut in MOULIN ROUGE?
It was incredible. I've been thinking a lot about when I was a child who wanted to do this, especially in Canada, when this seemed so unattainable and so far away. So the fact that I'm here and doing it and feeling the love of my Canadian friends and family and my friends here is really amazing. The day of the opening, everyone was like "remember this moment", but I was just trying to keep calm. You know we did the Legacy Robe ceremony before the show and I had seventy-five percent of my make up done because if I waited until after the ceremony I wouldn't be ready in time for the show. So I was really trying to just stay calm and hold back the tears. And every time that someone would be like, 'oh my gosh you're about to make your Broadway debut," I'd be like, "I can't talk about it now!" Because it's something that I always wanted but I didn't expect it to happen. There's literally moments in the show when I'm on stage and I'll just start to tear up because I realize that I'm actually here. You know there were so many times when people said that I probably wouldn't get here, regardless of my talent. And they weren't saying it maliciously, they were saying it realistically, knowing how hard it is to get here. So it's just been amazing to realize that I am here and I'm enjoying it and feeling it and I'm being a part of this beautiful community. I'm beyond happy and thrilled. It has been everything that I wished for and hoped for coming true!
BroadwayWorld congratulates Jeigh Madjus on his Broadway debut in Moulin Rouge! The actor's theater credits include "Here Lies Love" (the Public/SRT) and "La Cage aux Folles" (1st national tour). He has appeared on film in "Servitude"