By: Lauren Yarger
What’s It All About?
August 16, 2019: It’s a love story set against the seedy streets and Bohemia of turn-of-the-century Paris. This production has been seeing good traction at the New York Box Office following a sold-out run at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre last summer. Word of mouth about the over-the-top optics has fueled some of the rusg to see the newest musical written by John Logan (Red) and helmed by Alex Timbers It’s hard to imagine topping the big/wow factor for Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson and Beetlejuice, but he does…)
Here’s the gist: The Moulin Rouge Theater is going bankrupt under the management of Harold Zidler (Danny Burstein). He persuades his star chanteuse, Satine (Karen Olivo), to do what ever is necessary to attract the Duke of Monroth (Tam Mutu) and get him to put some of his considerable fortune into the theater’s next show (so much for seeing better roles for women on Broadway in the Me Too Era, I suppose….) Meanwhile, songwriter Christian (the golden-voiced Aaron Tveit) agrees to pitch a new musical written by friends Toulouse Lautrec (a moving Sahr Ngaujah) and ladies’ man Santiago (Ricky Rojas). After some mistaken identity, Christian and Santine become lovers and continue down a dangerous road as they and the other members of the acting roup, keep their passion a secret from the possessive and violent Monroth.
As in the film, the musical celebrates some of the greatest popular music of the last 50 years — some with just a line or two and others will full song (music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Justin Levine who also joined Timbers for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson).The stage musical features many of the iconic songs from the movie (the credits in the program are microscopic there are so many — the folks in charge of copyright clearance for this show deserve a raise). It also includes recent hits released since the movie’s premiere almost 20 years ago when it was nominated for eight Oscars, including best [icture.
What Are the Highlights?
Derek McLane’s sumptuous sets and Justin Townsend ‘s lighting design (perfection) are ooh la la! They, with Timbers, make this bigger than life. Performers pose and interact on stage in the house, and event overhead in the boxes where a colossal elephant and windmill expand the setting on either side. Get there early. This show has the best pre-show action on a Broadway stage.
It’s posh and encompassing, much like the Moulin Rouge itself. which started life as a popular cabaret and dance hall, then became an iconic music hall in the Roaring Twenties, then a theater where numerous famous French and international artistes stepped out into the limelight.
Aaron Tveit’s voice is as smooth and delightful as always and it is so good to hear him singing on a Broadway stage again — it has been a while since Catch Me if You Can and Next to Normal.
Just as the pre-show is terrific, the curtain call is spectacular too. Don’t slip out early on this one.
What Are the Lowlights?
Olivo, who wowed in West Side Story, is miscast in this role. The music doesn’t fit her voice and she and Tveit have no chemistry. Burstein seems out of place in his role as well, trying hard to sell the boisterous pimp of a theater manager.
Even more troubling is the question that keeps coming to mind throughout the two -hour, 35-plus minute show: Is this a comedy or drama? It often is hard to tell. Things are pretty serious until about 20 minutes in when some song choices bring laughter from the audience. This continues throughout because some of the lyrics are really hokey where they are sung. That makes us think it is on purpose. But other songs are dramatic and most of those have us wondering why that particular song was chosen when many others more suited come to mind. It’s confusing and takes us out of the story.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical plays at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th St., NYC. A block of tickets recently was released through July 2020. https://moulinrougemusical.com/
Additional casting: Robyn Hurder as Nini. Ensemble: Amber Ardolino, Jacqueline B. Arnold, Olutayo Bosede, Kyle Brown, Sam J. Cahn, Max Clayton, Karli Dinardo, Aaron C. Finley, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Bahiyah Hibah, Ericka Hunter, Holly James, Evan Kinnane, Reed Luplau, Jeigh Madjus, Morgan Marcell, Caleb Marshall, Brandt Martinez, Jodi McFadden, Kaitlin Mesh, Kevyn Morrow, Fred Odgaard, Dylan Paul, Khori Michelle Petinaud and Benjamin Rivera.
Additional credits: Catherine Zuber (costumes); Peter Hylenski (sound), David Brian Brown (wig and hair design); Sarah Cimino (Make-up design), Book by John Logan, Music by various artists, Choreography by Sonya Tayeh and Directed by Alex Timbers.
Photography: Matthew Murphy