Some musicals are subtle, moving works of art and some are brash spectacles that dare you to be bored. It’s comes as no surprise that Moulin Rouge! is the latter and from the first bass note you’ll have a hard time escaping it’s grasp.
Translating Baz Luhrmann’s camp, frenetic film to the stage was always going to require swift footwork and Moulin Rouge! throws everything it’s got at you. From the luxurious set, complete with windmill and elephant, to the rich costumes and vocal gymnastics. You barely have time to catch your breath. Blink and you’ll miss three songs and a set-change. The show even starts before the curtain rises, so get there early.
To compete with the films visual pace, the creators have gone for musical pace. You’ll barely hear a complete song in the whole show. Instead, the 70-something different songs are torn apart, mashed-together and remixed to within an inch of their lives. Is there a song lyric that doesn’t work with the narrative? No worries, they’ve pulled it out and replaced it with the hook of a totally different song. Part of the fun of Moulin Rouge! is trying to guess where it will go next.
There’s a tragic love story too, but let’s face it no one’s really here for that. Christian, Satine, blah, blah, cough, blah. The plot is a winding excuse for more killer tunes!
And the cast here are on amazing vocal form. The ensemble set the pace with the opening of Lady Marmalade, belting out seductive banter in red lingerie familiar to everyone thanks to the film soundtrack’s quartet of Mýa, P!nk, Christina Aguilera and Lil’ Kim. The Broadway show’s male leads are no slouches either. Aaron Tveit (blonde and boyish with a clear tenor voice) plays love-struck poet Christian, while Tam Mutu (tall, dark, handsome) is the evil Duke. Ashley Lauren (standing in for Karen Olivo on the night I was there) worked both the comedy and drama of Satine’s story. And despite what should be a downbeat ending, the show turns it around with a party vibe of celebration. It’s quite the achievement.
With so much going on, the real stars of the show are Director Alex Timbers, Music Supervisor Justin Levine and Choreographer Sonya Tayeh; this is an ecstatic music video brought to life and their work carries you through breathlessly. Rarely has a straight love-story been told with so much camp extravagance.
Moulin Rouge! is less a jukebox musical as a mash-up musical, like a brilliant, crowd-pleasing DJ set that’s kept you dancing all night long. As the theatre ejects you back into the real world for your post-absinthe come-down, you’ll be longing to come back for more.
Moulin Rouge! usually plays at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York, but is currently closed along with the rest of Broadway due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information and to purchase tickets to future performances head to the official website. A London production is scheduled for 2021.