July 26, 2019
A $28 million musical championing bohemian artists? Sounds perfectly logical when that show is the stage adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster Moulin Rouge! The audacious director has never been afraid of stylish excess, as his vibrant, often dizzying 2001 film demonstrated. And although it isn’t a seamless Broadway transfer, this lavish, rollicking production, from director Alex Timbers and book writer John Logan, serves up some suitably visual and aural splendours/
The film famously had Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor bursting into contemporary pop songs as they fell in love in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris. Boasting extravagant design and fast-paced editing, it was influenced more by music videos than musical theatre. Logan, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter attempts, not always successfully, a deeper dive into plot and character but keeps the core love story in place.
Aaron Tveit is the earnest Christian, a poor aspiring writer who falls for Karen Olivo’s sultry but world-weary Satine, the headliner at the celebrated Paris club. Although she returns his affections, Moulin Rouge owner Harold Zidler (Danny Burstein) is counting on her to satisfy the desires of the Duke of Monroth (Tam Mutu), whose money Harold needs to keep the nightspot solvent.
A lot of the star power lies behind the scenes. Capturing the aesthetic of the film, scenic designer Derek McLane outfits the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in red and gold, transforming it into the nightclub itself, with the windmill exterior on one side of the stage and giant elephant on the other. As the audience take their seats, scantily clad dancers mill about.
Choreographer Sonya Tayeh gives the bustling ensemble, awash in a rainbow of colours from costume designer Catherine Zuber, exhilarating, sexy dances — from cancan and tango to modern. Musical supervisor, orchestrator and arranger Justin Levine has pieced together a score containing 70 songs, both full numbers and excerpts of songs made famous by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and more.
Some have been carried over from the film: Elton John’s “Your Song,” love theme “Come What May” and a sumptuous rendition of “Nature Boy”. More musical highlights come from tunes that hadn’t been written when the movie was released, like Walk the Moon’s catchy “Shut Up and Dance” and OutKast’s pulsating “Hey Ya!”
Moulin Rouge! may not have the depth of some of Broadway’s great musicals, but it’s been playing to capacity crowds since performances began in late June. And why not? It’s fun, tuneful and entertaining, and that’s exactly what we need right now.