Prior to the pandemic Natalie Mendoza was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris where she bumped into Baz Luhrmann three times. One of his favorite spots, where he liked to sit and have a drink, happened to be one of her favorite spots to sit with her dog and read a book. "It was such a weird thing that my table was his table," she says. "I never would have guessed that it would have been a precursor to certain events that were about to roll out in the coming year.Those events were the emails, phone calls, auditions, and butterflies that led to Mendoza’s return to the Broadway stage after an 11-year absence. The actress took over the role of Satine in Moulin Rouge! the Musical when the production returned post-pandemic—a role she had originally auditioned for for the 2001 film. Fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman landed it that time, and Mendoza created the role of Can-Can dancer China Doll for the Luhrmann cinema spectacular (spectacular).
It did, though, take a little nudging to convince Mendoza to tape an audition. She had moved back to her Los Angeles home to wait out the pandemic and had begun teaching meditation, “which suddenly everyone wanted to learn,” she says. Director Alex Timbers (who directed Mendoza in the London production of Here Lies Love) emailed asking her to audition for the Australian production, which soon evolved into talking about the London production.
“I was very honest with him. I said, ‘I haven’t performed in many years.’ In fact, I was a monk for many years. It wasn’t just that I hadn’t performed, I literally hadn’t used my voice.”
A few more emails, a zoom workshop, and a flight to New York for a chemistry read with both Aaron Tveit and London’s Christian, Jamie Bogyo, led to a next day offer for the Broadway production. “I didn’t even think Broadway was ever in the cards for me again. I just thought it was a dream that had long gone,” says Mendoza, who made her Broadway debut as Arachne in 2010, but left after one month of previews following an injury.
READ: Aaron Tveit, Natalie Mendoza, Tam Mutu, Ricky Rojas Set Final Performance Date in Broadway'sMoulin Rouge!
But it was the nervousness and the uncertainty that nudged her to take the offer. “It was those butterflies,” she says. “I was sort of terrified in a really wonderful way. The growth is always in that direction, where the butterflies are...That feeling highlights a boundary that I wasn’t aware of.”
“I think I’m very even most of the time,” she says, referencing her quiet life, “so, I seek out those areas where maybe there’s discomfort, maybe there’s nerves, maybe there’s some unfinished business.”
Now that she’s rediscovered her voice and come back to Broadway, revisiting Moulin Rouge!, is the story complete? Not at all.
“Baz Luhrmann has created a timeless myth. There are aspects of it that will continue to evolve and grow and adapt,” says Mendoza. “It’s amazing what we attract into our lives...It always falls in alignment to where we’re at personally. For me, the character is such a full expression of the divine feminine. As a woman this character really celebrates so many of the phases that we go through, and the insecurities and the bridges that we have to cross. I go out there every night and it really feels slightly different because every night Natalie is also evolving.
So, she will return, each night as Broadway’s sparkling diamond, to discover a bit more of her story. Butterflies and all.