Interview: Simon Bailey Is Dancing With the Duke in West End Moulin Rouge!

Bailey take the stage in the fan-favorite musical at the Piccadilly Theatre in London.

Moulin Rouge! is burning down the house in London's West End, and actor Simon Bailey has a bird's eye view of it all as the villainous Duke of Monroth. It was a little rough going for the U.K. transfer of the Tony-winning musical, kicking off its run right as Omicron hit. But now, the show has bounced back, and a handful of Olivier nominations later, it's once again delighting audiences. Here, Bailey tells us about the joy he feels getting to do this show eight times a week.

Simon Bailey as the Duke in the West End production of Moulin Rouge!
Simon Bailey as the Duke in the West End production of Moulin Rouge!
(© Matt Crockett)

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

How's the show going?
It's going great. We had a minor little blip around Christmastime; we were the first to get re-struck with Covid. We'd done everything in our power to avoid it and the testing was rigorous, this and that. And then, one day, genuinely, it was half the company.

That sort of mirrors the Broadway situation. They were the first show to cancel in March 2020.
Yeah. I'm really good pals with Broadway cast members Ricky Rojas and Tam Mutu, and we were discussing how the situations mirrored each other. So, then we got back on and then the rest of us got it. It was just crazy. But I suppose that's the nature of the beast. If you're in a room full of lots of people, it was just going to be unavoidable, and everyone got it at the same time – literally, at the same time. It actually meant, in a kind of selfish way, that we could just get it, it was done, and move on. But we seem to be back on track, and I'm not being paid to say this, but our producers, across the board, were absolutely amazing. We had Zooms every day to make sure that everyone was ok. They really told us to take the time and come back when we could, not because we felt we had to.

And you're back now, Olivier nominations in hand. I've always said this show is like the best wedding party that you could possibly go to. Is it as fun to do as it looks, or is it just hard as hell?
I don't have to do as much dancing as everyone else, so physically, it isn't as difficult for me. And every show has its demands, but what you see really is what you get with the show. It is so much fun to do. And we have the bolster of having an audience who genuinely gets on board with everything that is being done. That opening is 10, 12 minutes of theatrical joy. One of the best parts of my job is that I get this amazing entrance, which is so cool, and then I get to sit there and watch the audience. The best part of this thing is watching everybody reacting to what's happening on stage. This is why I think Moulin Rouge! is probably the best show that anyone could possibly have put on after something as catastrophic as we've all been through. People are slack-jawed sitting there, touching the person next to them going "Are you seeing this as well? Is this a dream?"

Simon Bailey (center) with the cast of Moulin Rouge! at the Piccadilly Theatre in London
Simon Bailey (center) with the cast of Moulin Rouge! at the Piccadilly Theatre in London
(© Johan Persson)

Had you worked with Tam, your Broadway counterpart, before? Or were you just friends?
We were friendly through the scene. We had done a few concerts together and I got to know him a bit during Love Never Dies, because I'm really good pals with Ramin Karimloo. I had to be so quiet about getting the role, and it's not that I don't trust Tam, but you really couldn't say anything to anybody, because once you tell somebody, it's on them not to say something by accident. The announcement came out the day after the Broadway cast had gone back into rehearsal, and I got a message from Tam saying "Well, well, well." And I was like "Yeah, it's me, dude." He was lovely and over the moon for me, and he let me get on with it, which I really respected. Ricky had fun with it. When it was announced that it was coming to London, Ricky sent me a text saying "if this isn't you, I don't know who it is." So when I told him, he took a bit of pride in that. I credit it to Ricky Rojas, for sure.

I've often said I want to live in Alex Timbers's brain, because I truly have no idea how he came up with the mechanics of Moulin Rouge! What was it like for the company to put this whole thing together?
A lot of us had seen the film, but because the show had only just opened in the States before the pandemic, there wasn't really a chance for anyone to go over and see it. So, we were coming in not knowing what the show's structure was necessarily going to be. Day one, when you're doing the model boxes and people are describing what your costume will look like, we were the ones I was just talking about, going "Is this real life?" When Alex came over and we started to work with him, he would just kind of nonchalantly say "And then this goes into this and then this comes in and then you'll fly down there and then the swing comes in," and we're like "Can we just have two seconds?" Because each one of those ideas needs 10 minutes to process. It was almost too much, but in a beautiful way. We were all so excited and it hasn't wanted. We love the fact that we get to do this every single day.