Moulin Rouge: The Musical | The Most Exquisite Theatrical Experience of Our Time

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It’s a spectacular spectacular with all the confetti you could dream of, superlative performances featuring a remarkably gifted and diverse cast, a stunning, out-of-this-world set, and the kind of theatrical experience the world dreams of. Baz Luhrmahn’s Academy Award nominated Moulin Rouge is one of the most memorable films of its time, and Moulin Rouge: The Musical! is the Broadway experience you don’t want to miss. A story filled with colossal passion in every corner along with heart wrenching emotions that’ll leave you thinking for days to come—poignant, exquisitely captivating, and profoundly enduring. It’s worth every penny and more. To take you all behind the magic with as little spoilers as possible, there are a number of reasons as to why you should be making it a priority to watch Moulin Rouge: The Musical!

The Performances

Moulin Rouge! The Musical features familiar faces like Broadway alumni Aaron Tveit (Next to Normal, Catch Me if You Can), Tony award winning actress Karen Olivo (West Side Story, Hamilton) and class act Danny Burstein (Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof). An unforgettable duo between Sahr Ngaujah’s Lautrec and Ricky Rojas’ Santiago that’s bound to bring immense, ridiculous joy through it all. A memorable character in Robyn Hurder’s Nini, a riveting portrayal of the Duke by Tam Matu, and a gorgeously talented ensemble cast full of some great names. For a film that was known so well for the faces that brought the characters to life, the Broadway stars are just as memorable, each in their own wonderfully unique ways.

Tveit is no stranger to heartrending, poignantly vulnerable performances that leave audiences completely enamored, and it’s an added bonus that the man’s got an excellent set of pipes. Moulin Rouge! The Musical, is without question, Tveit’s greatest showcase yet. Tveit’s embodiment of Christian is worthy of immense praise—it’s so magnificently moving, it’s impossible not to ache for him. And Karen Olivo is an absolute star—if this performance doesn’t get her a Tony award, I’m rioting the stars. Olivo is an excellent partner to Tveit, both working so well together in bringing a whirlwind of emotions to life with beautiful ease. By the end of the production, you’ll find yourself deeply worried for both their physical and emotional state.

The Directing

Moulin Rouge! The Musical’s director Alex Timbers has directed some of my favorite TV specials, but this may just be my favorite work of his. Timbers is acutely great at not only understanding the emotional beats each character feels, but the characterization of the club itself. His striking vision and the distinct choices he’s made in framing the production have made it that much easier to immerse ourselves into the story, and for a story like Moulin Rouge, the audience’s experiences matters, too.

When showgoers find themselves invested in the lives of every dancer and every budding relationship then the director’s done a fine job of illuminating what’s crucial. It’s impossible not to pay attention to every choreographed number, superbly well done by Sonya Tayeh I might add. (You’re going to want her to be your new instructor, I can promise that much.) Blocking done with such appreciable care, there are details in every corner of the production you don’t want to miss. The creative choice to alter the story from the film gave Timbers the opportunity to build a world with surprising complexities and torment within each and every character that worked impeccably for the musical adaptation.

The Set Design

A production’s set is crucial in any form of storytelling and Derek McLane outdoes himself tremendously with the dazzling details, which roar with impeccable resonance from the moment audience members enter the theatre. The set itself is a key character to the production providing the necessary escapism a show like Moulin Rouge! The Musical demands — the transportation to the Parisian club known so vivaciously for its fiery red windmill and bright red lights. McLane’s set is as close to perfect as any Broadway set can be, and dare I say, my absolute favorite to date. (Possibly even, of all time. Quote me.) So simple in what it represents but riveting and magically gripping in every way possible. Every light switch, and every backdrop shift is done with such meticulous detail and effortless ease, you’ll find yourself in a breathless gasp of astonishment through it all. To be frank, I can’t even look at a picture without geeking out, imagine seeing it in person.

It’s a marvel, darling readers—in every way shape, or form. Moulin Rouge! The Musical is the kind of production that’ll leave you enamored from the pre-show. Whether you’re looking towards the infamous windmill on the left or the elephant on the right, there’s a show to be seen—performed so tastefully, it’s nothing short of gorgeous. From the streets of Montmartre, the club’s dancing grounds, and of course, to Satine’s bedroom that overlooks the streets of Paris, McLane’s set is an absolute masterpiece that’ll be raved about for years to come. The theatre’s transformation is so breathtaking, I’m certain it’s beautiful with merely the ghost light on.

The Costumes 

Prepare to gasp through every single costume change because there are no right words to describe the wondrous, beautifully colorful ensembles. Catherine Zuber is on fire with her designs in Moulin Rouge: The Musical! I couldn’t pick a favorite piece if I tried—each finely threaded piece of clothing in this show contributes exceptionally to the story’s array of emotions by bringing light to an otherwise fairly dark world. I want to analyze each piece and the representations of each color along with what they scream to the audience, but I’d be spoiling too much and thereby, taking away from the experience of those who haven’t seen it. There’s velvet, sparkles, ruffles, and stunning pieces of lingerie, too—Zuber’s work in the production is unmatched.

Immersive Audience Experience | The Fourth Wall

Along with the set design, the choice to have the majority of the production take place inside of the cabaret stage creates a break in the fourth wall unlike the ones we’re commonly used to. In simpler terms, the audience is the audience. It’s up to us to “ooh and ahh” and save the Moulin Rouge from closure. It’s up to us to care deeply for the dancing sisters and Satine’s unfortunate journey that ends in tragedy. It’s up to us to root tirelessly for Christian’s dreams amidst his naiveté and brokenness. For two glorious and remarkably entrancing hours the audience isn’t just a group of theatre lovers uniting for a production, but a group of eclectic souls who’ve found themselves in the midst of a revolution full of song and dance, longing and fulfillment, shunned heroes and villains, and creative souls venturing on a journey of ineffable inspiration cobbled with acceptance in all forms.

Music Past | Present

Moulin Rouge is known for its innovative soundtrack, which combined popular songs of its time with amusing remixes and tonal changes, but in Moulin Rouge! The Musical, the cobbling of old and new brings a fantastic charm to the Broadway production. By bringing in songs like Sia’s “Chandelier,” WALK THE MOON’S “Shut Up and Dance,” Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” Katy Perry’s “Firework” and more, it’s heightened the crowds energy with riveting jolt of surprise. It amplifies the story in an intricate matter while still keeping crucial songs like Elton John’s “Your Song,” “Come What May,” “The Elephant Love Medley,” and “El Tango de Roxanne” at the forefront, allowing them to shine in a new light with credible voices that match one another beautifully. Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo complement one another with astounding melodic chemistry in every duet bringing that much more emotion to Christian and Satine’s love story.

Aaron Tveit’s version of “El Tango de Roxanne” is harrowing and painfully impassioned, Tveit’s enveloping and meticulous embodiment of the character almost makes it difficult to watch the moment unfold for the torment in his performance is acutely compelling from start to finish. It’s dark, it’s confident, it’s desperate, it’s vulnerable, and it’s the song that’s bound to hit like a ton of bricks to the chest. Tveit’s version of “El Tango de Roxanne” is a breathtaking showcase of love’s intense struggle and the pangs of despondency, the inability to grasp the complexity of his situation. Tveit brings Christian’s anguish to life with a cry full of such vehement adoration, which shifts the story’s tone remarkably allowing the audience with familiarity to the film to embark on the journey of profound sadness with Christian.

And darling readers, you haven’t truly heard “Firework” until you watch Karen Olivo bring the song to life with dare I say, utter perfection. It’s a song meant to be sung by her and you’ll feel every beat of the lyrics with the emotional performance Olivo puts on for us. It’s gut-wrenching, beautifully moving, and so very well done, words are failing me.

The Story

Moulin Rouge is one of the most incredible love stories of its time, and the Broadway production is just as revolutionary for the present day. A soon-to-be Tony award-winning production for sure. The theatrical production not only works in favor of Christian and Satine, but it gives the audience opportunities to care completely for characters not at the forefront, which is something the film lacked. (At least where my personal opinion is concerned.) The film doesn’t leave enough room for viewers to care about the fate of the club and its personnel. However, Moulin Rouge! The Musical makes it almost effortless to care for them—Christian and Satine aren’t just an integral part of the production, but they are the anchors, their love combined with the efforts of Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago the Narcoleptic Argentinian bring to life a sense of unwavering loyalty to members of the Moulin Rouge. The emotions and the now heartier involvement of the crew make it that much easier to understand why the Moulin Rouge is home to the children of the revolution. Zidler in the musical doesn’t just care for the club’s fate or to show off his Sparkling Diamond chanteuse, but he cares deeply for Satine’s character above all things, extending that same adoration for all his performers. In the same way, Nini isn’t out to take Satine’s place, but despite her desire to be a star, she still looks out for Satine’s health showcasing the fact that they are indeed a chosen family at the Moulin Rouge. The musicians, the painters, and the writers all belong in this crazy world made of up complex human emotions that challenge norms and shine a light on their desperate attempts to get by.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical, much like the film, makes it easy to care for the underdogs, the people who might not be as we are, but share the same frustrations and fears we do. The people who take drastic measures and ignite fires that they can’t control. It’s the story of lost souls making mistakes and climbing through them, finding comfort, and sticking to it. It’s a story that highlights the importance of our choices, the desperate ones, and the brave ones. It’s a love story that breaks our hearts, but keeps us hopeful with a sense of quiet understanding that though there’s darkness in this world, the moments of pure bliss can carry us through. It’s the story of grief and growth that reminds audiences to never judge what we can’t understand because humans are multifaceted, complex, and beautifully diverse beings with a myriad of issues sharing a common and perhaps the strongest parallel, the desire to above all things, love and be loved. 

P.S. After the incredibly talented Jenna Guidi and I watched the show in Boston, we recorded a podcast on it if you want more Moulin Rouge! The Musical feels. And watching it again on Broadway together was so much fun because we were able to spot the similarities and differences between the Boston production. And now the countdown to fall begins—who else is going to be apologizing to all their loved ones for blasting the soundtrack on replay when it comes out!? This girl.

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