A Conversation With Courtney Reed, Star of ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ in Chicago

She’s back in town and couldn’t be happier.

Elgin’s own Courtney Reed, the Grammy-nominated actor known best for originating the role of “Princess Jasmine” in the long-running Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway, is now starring in the lead role of “Satine” in the first national touring company of the 10-time Tony Award-winning show, Moulin Rouge! The Musical. The tour opened in Chicago and runs through May 14 at the Nederlander Theatre in the Loop, followed by stints in Minneapolis, Denver, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, and Las Vegas.

Recreating the 2021 Tony Award-winning Best Musical is no small feat, but the original eye-popping set is faithfully reconstructed for a travelling show appearing in many different venues, and the touring company is directed by the original Tony Award-winning team of Alex Timbers (Director), Sonya Tayeh (Choreographer), and Justin Lavine (musical arrangements/orchestrations). It truly brings to life the ground-breaking 2001 Baz Luhrmann film in all its glitz and glory and includes all the iconic songs (“Lady Marmalade,” “Your Song,” and “Material Girl” among them) you want to hear, as well as newer additions from Beyoncé, Rihanna, Sia, and Adele. This is a production not to be missed. As the New York Times raved in their 2019 review, “Spectacular! Euphoric! In Moulin Rouge! The Musical, life is beautiful.”

Courtney Reed
Photo courtesy of Nathanael Filbert

We got the chance to talk with Reed while she was in tech rehearsals for the show earlier this month. We discussed her local roots and early training, experiences on Broadway, and her professional bucket list. Here is an edited version of the interview.

Better: So, you just hit town! Must be nice to be back home.

Courtney Reed: Yes, and I’m staying in my own apartment. Such a treat. I went to the Larkin Visual Performing Arts Academy High School in Elgin, and then to the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University as a Musical Theatre major. Chicago is truly my home.

What happened after you graduated from Roosevelt? What was your path to Broadway?

I started auditioning locally during college, booking things here and there. I did a show at Noble Fool, then Pheasant Run. After school, I auditioned for Mamma Mia, not realizing it was for the Broadway cast — crazy, I know, but I thought it was for a touring company — and booked the gig, so I moved to New York City. After that, I booked the role of “Carla” in the closing cast of In the Heights, and then came Aladdin.

Originating a role in a new Broadway show is quite a career milestone.

It was truly a bucket list thing for me, to originate a part. I had looked up to this Disney icon my whole life, and I stayed with the show for a long time because I loved the part so much. I had a long journey with the show; I did the first reading in 2010. People wonder how I stayed with it for so long, but I absolutely loved it. [Director] Casey Nicolaw took a Disney show that was an adventure — not necessarily written as a comedy, but the stage musical was really much more so. It brought cartoons to life, heightened the reality of it all. The adults in the audience appreciated it, and of course kids loved it.

After you left the Aladdin cast, you took a part in Lauren Yee’s award-winning Cambodian Rock Band at NYC’s Signature Theatre. What was that like for you?

Another bucket list thing for me: you’re not a real actor until you do an Off-Broadway play! With the guidance of our director Chay Yew I learned so much. Got to flex my rock star muscles! It’s a story that really needed to be told. A lot of people don’t know about the Cambodian genocide. When you feel like you’re telling a story, and people go home and do research, you feel like you’ve done your job. I was honoring my southeast Asian roots — my mom is ethnically Vietnamese but born and raised in Thailand.

The pandemic put a stop to all theatre productions for quite a while.

Yes. Too true. We had to close Cambodian Rock Band early, and performances were sold out. It was heartbreaking. I was also most of the way through the Moulin Rouge casting process by then, and the tour was put on hold when the pandemic hit. And we all know how that went for the theatre industry. So, I moved back to Chicago to be near my family, and my boyfriend. We had me in college but reconnected during COVID. Things take me back to New York, but my family is here.

But now, thankfully, the show is back on. And what a show it is!

I was a huge fan of the film and watched it a hundred million times. When they first announced it as a musical, I never thought I could play Satine, as I’m not exactly the Nicole Kidman type. Jasmine was a strong female character, but the show wasn’t about her. But Satine is a leading lady, and a real transition for me, a real opportunity. If I’m going to tour, I wanted to do it with a big show, so I couldn’t be happier. The company is so wonderful. Conor Ryan’s voice soars, perfect for the material. We established connection early on. He has such boyish charm, a real lust for life. His essence drives the show. He ticks all the boxes. I’ve been so lucky, always surround by so many generous, talented people. And now people have even more gratitude than before. The [production] team wants us to succeed, and we’re working hard to put it together. There are a lot of new elements, and the show has to be flexible to fit the different theatres.

The tour will run for at least a year, and you’ve already had a long run with Aladdin. How do you prepare for that mentally?

Doing a long gig becomes more about the fun you have with your company offstage. If I have a job where I’m getting paid to do what I love, it’s time well spent.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical runs in Chicago through May 14, 2022. Get tickets at BroadwayinChicago.com.

More from Better:

Julie ChernoffBetter’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night. 

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