Out actor John Cardoza welcomes audiences to the ‘Moulin Rouge!’

John Cardoza as Christian and Courtney Reed as Satine in the North American Tour of ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical.’ The two actors are in a loving embrace as they stand in front of a lit up heart that says,
John Cardoza as Christian and Courtney Reed as Satine in the North American Tour of ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical.’ Credit: Matthew Murphy

John Cardoza loves to travel, but at this time last year, the out actor couldn’t imagine what his next journey would look like. After a busy 2022 that found him starring in the world premieres of “The Notebook” in Chicago and a musical adaptation of “The Karate Kid” in St. Louis, the Massachusetts native now finds himself touring the country as Christian in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” Philadelphia performances begin at the Academy of Music on July 5, with proceeds from the first four shows benefitting William Way LGBT Community Center. 

Although Cardoza was a fan of the show, having seen the Broadway iteration several times, he didn’t picture himself as a natural contender for the leading role he now occupies. Derek Klena, who currently plays Christian in the New York company, is a longtime friend and former co-star in “Jagged Little Pill” on Broadway. Cardoza also idolized Aaron Tveit, who originated the role.

“I read a lot younger than these guys, and I’m still kind of coming up in the business,” Cardoza told PGN. “I didn’t really think that I would be on their radar as a potential Christian, but when it came up, I thought it was a cool opportunity to audition. I couldn’t believe that they kept calling me in until the role came my way. It was a huge surprise and a really awesome honor.”

Since joining the company in Dallas back in March, Cardoza has found himself enmeshed in the life of a touring artist. This is his first experience on the road with a major production.

“I have a lot of respect for people who tour, and who give up their lives at home and their proximity to their support systems to bring this art form across America,” Cardoza said. “It’s a really big challenge and a big responsibility. There are so many people who are excited to see this show when we come through, because they don’t have the opportunity to travel to New York and see it on Broadway. This makes it accessible for them, and that’s really exciting for us too, to feel that kind of energy. Touring definitely has its challenges, but it’s really fun.”

The “Moulin Rouge!” company will call Philadelphia home for nearly a month. Cardoza has family around Pennsylvania and has visited Philadelphia before, but this will be his first experience spending a significant amount of time in town.

“In terms of settling into a new city, I like to spend a bit of time around the area where I’m staying,” he said. “As long as I know where I’m going to get my coffee in the morning, where I’m going to go to the gym, and that I have a grocery store, I’m good. Those are the things that sort of allow you to take care of yourself and establish your routine. So much of my day is getting ready to do the show. There are times when I wish I actually had a little more time to explore new cities, because I have the opportunity where traveling is my job.”

Based on the 2001 Baz Luhrmann film starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, “Moulin Rouge!” has long been a favorite of LGBTQ+ audiences. As a queer man himself, Cardoza sees parallels between the central love story and the queer experience.

“The story is not the struggle of a man loving a woman,” Cardoza said. “It’s the struggle of a person falling in love with a person that the world thinks they shouldn’t, which is accessible to everyone: gay, straight, whoever. Everyone has had that moment of falling head over heels for somebody [and] you almost lose yourself in the romance. That’s who Christian is. He falls so in love with this person that he will do anything for them. Any person of any background or identity can see themselves in that.”

As for Cardoza, his journey to life as a leading man on the road began in his suburban household. 

“I definitely ran around the house singing as a kid,” he said. “But I didn’t know that you could do this as a career until later in life. I started doing drama club in middle school, and to me, it was something that people did as a hobby.”

“A friend of a friend came to see something that I was in, and he was going to Boston Conservatory for composition at the time. He said, ‘I really think you could do this if you put your mind to it,’ and I ended up going to Boston Conservatory too. I had a very normal childhood that allowed me to become a very imaginative and creative person, which I think served me well when it came time to pursue this seriously as a career.”

The national tour of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” plays July 5-23 at the Academy of Music. For tickets and information, visit kimmelculturalcampus.org.

This story has been updated to reflect the new performance dates.