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‘Moulin Rouge!’ producer Carmen Pavlovic on the Tonys and guiding a show through a pandemic

“Moulin Rouge!” producer Carmen Pavlovic had intended to fly back home to Australia in late February and then return to New York City to see the musical through Tony Awards season. But when she embarked on her flight, she realized that reality was about to change.

Karen Olivo and Aaron Tveit in the Broadway production of 'Moulin Rouge!' (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

“Moulin Rouge!” producer Carmen Pavlovic had intended to fly back home to Australia in late February and then return to New York City to see the musical through Tony Awards season.

But when she embarked on her flight, she realized that reality was about to change.

“I flew back through LAX, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can see where this is going. I’m not going to be coming back,'” Pavlovic said.

Instead, Pavlovic has been managing the musical, which cancelled its March 12 matinee hours before the Broadway shutdown, from Australia. She’s been juggling different time zones while checking in on her Broadway cast members, monitoring the extended shutdown of the industry and preparing the show for an eventual reopening.

And as of last week, Pavlovic was also celebrating the show’s 14 Tony Award nominations.

She recently spoke with Broadway News from Sydney, where it was 4:30 a.m. local time, about the Tony nominations and guiding her show and cast through the Broadway shutdown.

Edited excerpts:

Broadway News: How do you feel after the nominations?

Pavlovic: I’m very pleased for all of the shows that had the chance to participate, because I feel the industry just needs a moment to stand together. It’s really lovely to have the opportunity to be recognized for something positive and act as a reminder of what it is we’re all here to do, which is to create the work. And then as far as “Moulin Rouge” goes, I’m happy to have the work and the efforts of the team recognized across the board.

BN: What do you think about having the Tony Awards now?

Pavlovic: There’s not a lot of easy answers to the question about the best way to approach the Tony Awards. It’s certainly not the awards any of us were imagining this year, but I still think it’s important. A lot of great work opened, and I think it’s important that the shows have that moment before too much time passes.

And at a time that we’re really trying to draw attention to the importance of the art, it’s really a great opportunity to keep reminding everyone out there about the incredible caliber of work on Broadway and why it is so important Broadway is supported in coming back.

BN: Will “Moulin Rouge” be coming back to Broadway?

Pavlovic: Yes, “Moulin Rouge” will be back. It was early in its opening, and it opened so well, both critically and at the box office. I recognize we’re very privileged to have a show that is such an international title and that was in a pretty steady place ahead of the shutdown.

Every single day we work on “Moulin Rouge” Broadway. Every single day we continue our general management meetings, marketing meetings.

The devil is really in the details and making sure the environment is safe for audiences, and making sure the working environment is safe for people on stage and backstage. I’ve put my energy into working away at those issues, not even trying to guess what the timing of that will be.

BN: Your show was particularly impacted by the coronavirus in March.

Pavlovic: We were hit very hard early on. We actually canceled the matinee on the day of the shutdown [March 12]. We had some temperatures in the building and were worried. People were not fully aware of the extent of COVID-19, and we just thought it was better that we take a proactive step and close the show that afternoon. Then the announcement was made that Broadway would be closing down at 5 p.m. At that time, we actually took the step to get the company tested. We had a very high incident rate, and people had very different experiences with the illness.

BN: Have you been able to stay in touch with your Broadway cast and crew throughout all of this?

Pavlovic: Yes, I’ve been thinking hard about what leadership looks like during a time like this. I think it’s almost like wartime leadership. Major communication is important and transparency is very important. Often we don’t have very good information to give people, but they really appreciate us being in contact and just being honest about what we do know.

We periodically have Zoom calls with our company. We definitely have a lot of email updates, and we’re always reaching out to check on everybody’s health and financial and mental well-being.

One of the benefits of this time has been the opportunity to look inward, and we’re working very hard on our [Equity, Diversity and Inclusion] policies and reflecting on the current questions being asked of us. It’s been great to have some really thoughtful conversations with everybody in our company and start to look at what this new workplace will be that we come back to and what kind of culture we want to create at “Moulin Rouge.”

BN: What else have you been able to work on with so much up in the air in terms of theater and Broadway?

Pavlovic: Like everybody in the early weeks, we spent all day, every day trying to guess what would happen and guess the outcome and comeback timing. By the end of June, I just felt it was psychologically very bad for everybody’s well-being to do that. And I made a really conscious choice that I just wanted to work on things that were within our control. So for example, we have productions we’re working on for North American tours, for Broadway, for the West End, for Australia. And I just keep the work moving on these shows with licensing deals, raising money, those sorts of things, and looking at potential exploitations of rights, as well as developing new work.