JoJo on becoming 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical''s Sparkling Diamond
The platinum-selling pop singer takes over the lead role of Satine in the Tony-winning show, based on Baz Luhrmann's romantic movie musical, through July 16.
It's never too little, too late to make your Broadway debut. Just ask Joanna Levesque. Nearly 20 years after first making her name as the pop singer JoJo, she's taking the stage as Satine, the performer who falls for the bohemian writer Christian in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. She fulfills her long-held dream of being on Broadway, and gets to put her own mark on the star-crossed showgirl she’s loved since Nicole Kidman played the role in the 2001 film.
At 13, JoJo got her start with the hits "Leave (Get Out)," making her the youngest solo artist to ever top the Billboard Top 40 pop chart, and "Too Little, Too Late." These remain her most recognizable songs, even after she's furthered her career with albums including Mad Love and Good to Know.
But like Satine, whose star power hides a history of poverty and illness, JoJo has had her own share of career challenges. After contractual disputes over her early music, she created her own record label. JoJo promotes and advocates for herself as a performer, and brings her "breadth of life experience in this game" to Satine.
"Satine has been on the streets since she was 13 years old, making a way for herself, and in a way, so have I," JoJo said. "So I can relate a little bit."
That makes it all the more spectacular to see her shine as the Sparkling Diamond, which she'll do at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre through July 16. JoJo spoke with New York Theatre Guide about her enduring love for Moulin Rouge!, how her music career prepared her for this show full of pop hits, and the theatre roles she wants to tackle next.
Get Moulin Rouge! The Musical tickets now.
How does it feel to make your Broadway debut?
It's lit. It is so crazy. I've been dreaming of being on Broadway since I was a little girl from South Boston, taking the Bonanza bus to the city for little auditions, and now I'm here. I just can't believe it.
What was your Moulin Rouge! rehearsal process like?
I have no context into what a normal process is, so my process is my own. I worked for just a little over three weeks to get ready for this — six days a week, long hours. It was an education on steroids, Broadway boot camp. Really fun, really scary diving right in, didn't have time to even think about it. Just — "get out there, girl!"
What is your favorite moment in the show? Is it the same as your favorite movie moment?
[In the show,] I really like the Green Fairy moment where Christian is under the influence of absinthe, and I'm just this chaotic fairy who's coming in to fuck up his whole world. It's really fun. Kylie Minogue does the Green Fairy in the movie.
That's not my favorite moment from the movie. I'd say my favorite moment is when Nicole Kidman is with Christian, but she thinks he's the Duke, and she's like, "Mm! Oh!" Everything he's saying, she's like, "Oh, yes, I just need more of it!" I love that moment. Nicole Kidman slays me.
How has your background as a pop singer prepared you for this pop-heavy show?
We're in here singing hits after hits after hits, so it's fun. [Similarly,] I have a couple of my own classics in my catalogue.
[It] is very exciting that these songs that we're singing stand the test of time. Some of them are from decades prior; some of them are from the 2010s. These are songs that you know, that you grew up with, that are, if not in the recesses of your mind, they live somewhere in your body.
We're just exchanging energy with the audience all night. They sing along, we're singing up there. It's fun, and my experience in pop music has definitely prepared me for this moment.
What was your first musical theatre obsession, or your first exposure to musical theatre that sticks with you?
Phantom of the Opera was probably my first exposure to musical theatre because my mom did local productions of Phantom of the Opera and a bunch of different shows. That's the first one I remember. Little Shop of Horrors was one of my favorite movies. And Beetlejuice — [Moulin Rouge! The Musical director] Alex Timbers did the Broadway version of Beetlejuice as well, but that's just a movie that had music in it.
What are your other dream Broadway roles in the future?
I would love to do Little Shop of Horrors. But I want to originate a role! That's probably next on deck for me. Ten years ago, I was part of the workshop for Jawbreakers. They were going to turn that into a musical, but it was at the same time that Mean Girls and Heathers was coming out, so we just got the boot. But it was me, Frankie Grande, Liz Gillies, and we were all going to originate something. That's the next step for me. I would really, really love to be a part of something from the ground up.
What is it about Moulin Rouge! that has such lasting appeal?
This show is spectacular. It really is. It's just so deliciously sumptuous. It's romantic, it's exciting, it hits all sides. It's a classic love story that we know and love and are torn apart by. It's giving La Bohème, it's giving Romeo and Juliet, and in such a gorgeous way.
The reason why it stands the test of time is because it's so damn good. It's one of those guilty pleasures you should feel no guilt about enjoying.
Get Moulin Rouge! The Musical tickets now.
Photo credit: JoJo as Satine in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. (Photo by Avery Brunkus)
Originally published on