The Tony winner spoke to People CHICA about her career on stage and how important Latinx representation is in theater.

By Alma Sacasa
March 20, 2020

The Tony-winning actress Karen Olivo has appeared in productions like Chicago, Hamilton, and Chess and on TV shows like The Good Wife, but her current starring role in the Broadway version of Moulin Rouge! has taken her to new heights. "We all have to have jobs, but I am really lucky to have a job that is doing well and that people really love and enjoy," she tells People CHICA. "There are a lot of people that come to the show and leave with smiles on their faces, so you know — worse things to do for your job!"

For eight shows a week she plays cabaret actress Satine, the role originated by Nicole Kidman in the 2001 movie. (This changed last week, when Broadway theaters shut down due to coronavirus concerns.) Olivo doesn't have a lot of time to relax, and wastes none of the free minutes she does have worrying about audiences comparing her to Kidman. "My version of Satine is different from the movie’s version," she explains. "Obviously, I am not Nicole Kidman! But my version of Satine is more centered on community and family."

For the theater to become even more inclusive, she believes that producers should think outside of the box with their casting. "We need to have more creative teams like my creative team for Moulin Rouge," she says. "They could have easily found someone that looked like Nicole Kidman, but they were open to the idea of a reinterpretation of everything."

While times have changed since she first started only seeing a few Latinas onstage — Daphne Rubin-Vega, Priscilla Lopez, and Chita Rivera, for example — Olivo believes the entertainment business still has a lot of work to do when it comes to inclusion. "Four percent of the people who have actor’s equity cards are Latinas, and that’s crazy when you think of how many of us are in the entertainment business," she says. "That statistic alone should tell you that we have a long way to go."

Olivo won a Tony for her performance as Anita in a 2009 revival of West Side Story, making her the first and only actor to have won a Tony for the beloved musical. She was also part of the original cast of In the Heights and is very excited to see the new movie, due out this summer. "When the trailer came out I just wept, and then I watched it four more times and then I wept again," she recalls. "I’m so proud that that story is being told again for a different generation."

While she has already played several iconic roles, she still has plenty of other dream parts on her list. "I really love Stephen Sondheim’s Passion, which is not a really well known piece of theater, but the part of Fosca has always been a dream of mine to play," she says. "Mama Rose in Gypsy, that’s a really great part, too. I don’t think I would be normally seen for [it], but things change."

If she weren't busy on Broadway, Olivo would like to have been a teacher. "Nothing compares to watching a student sort of understand a concept and watching their eyes light up," she says. "That feels better than applause or awards, because you know you have shifted someone’s trajectory."