Robyn Hurder’s Tony-nominated performance as Nini in Moulin Rouge: The Musical! is worth celebrating entirely for Hurder’s unbridled passion. Like the 2001 film, Nini is a member of Harold Zidler’s “Diamond Dogs,” but she’s so much more in the Broadway production. She’s more than just Santiago’s (Ricky Rojas) bad romance courtesan; she’s more than a performer—she’s a complex, brilliantly written character.
As much as I adore the original film and the utter magic Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman bring to Christian and Satine, it was always hard for me to care about the film version of Nini. The betrayal never sat right with me, and it still doesn’t. While her complexities and motives aren’t tricky to understand, it’s not quite excusable.
Hurder’s version of Nini, however, is something else entirely.
I was fortunate to watch the show both in Boston and New York, and though I am a long-time fan of Aaron Tveit‘s and the original film, I came out of the Broadway production as an admirer of Robyn Hurder almost instantly. Despite the similarities between the two adaptations, Broadway’s version of Nini is full of compassion. Instead of revealing Satine’s secret, she chooses to warn her. She chooses to be Satine’s friend despite always harboring jealousy towards her. It’s both a testament to the writing of Moulin Rouge: The Musical! and Robyn Hurder’s performances for making the character’s nuances and empathy feel believable in a world that’s otherwise untrustworthy, dark, and vicious.
They’re each out for themselves, which we can expect from this story. Still, it’s easy to appreciate the Broadway production for humanizing the characters more because it makes them feel like a true family bound together by unfortunate circumstances. Harold Zidler—all of them. The theatrical production is more connected by virtue of the passion the actors have each consistently performed with.
In short, the entire production is worth celebrating, and with its Tony wins, we have that. But Robyn Hurder didn’t win, yet her nominated performance is the scene-stealer worthy of tremendous praise. Hurder’s passion on stage is unparalleled—it’s magnetic, bold, seductive, and deeply vulnerable. There’s a reason the “Bad Romance” and “El Tango de Roxanne” numbers are so memorable. Between Sonya Tayeh’s jaw-dropping routines and Hurder’s passion throughout, the performances equate to works of art.
The performers on this show are unreal. They’ve each done something tremendously special on stage, the unstoppable Karen Olivo, included. There’s a reason Danny Burstein, Reed Luplau, and Sam J. Cahn’s departures left everyone in tears. Though Robyn Hurder doesn’t take her final bow until February 20, many of us are likely wrecked by her announcement regardless.
Hurder’s role as Nini is magnetically compelling in every sense of the word. If you’ve watched the production, you are likely in utter awe of how her body can move. (You’re also probably obsessed with her Instagram cooking show, but that’s a conversation for another time.) You can’t embody a character with fire and soul if you don’t love them fully, and Hurder loves Nini deeply.
The Moulin Rouge was always supposed to be a version of home for Hurder—”A world I wanted to devour 20 years ago and a role I wanted to possess so badly, I would tremble and cry thinking about it,” she writes in her farewell post. And because of her profound adoration for this world, Hurder brought everything she had to the stage every night.
Nothing is meant to last forever, but a captivating performance creates a lasting legacy. Nini is Robyn Hurder’s, and we’ll celebrate it every time the red curtain opens.