A truly spectacular spectacular, Moulin Rouge burns through the budget of a hundred musicals, all in the quest for extravagant entertainment. The result is a feast for the eyes and ears, even if it provides little nourishment for the soul.
Produced on an extraordinarily lavish scale, the visual impact begins on entering the red and gold auditorium. A working windmill and mighty elephant flank the stage, while the hearts and diamonds motif explodes from the stage all the way around the theatre.
Master script writer John Logan has neatly adapted Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce’s screenplay from the hit 2001 film, even though his work nearly drowns under the cavalcade of omnipresent musical numbers. The musical utilises most of the songs from the movie, adding plenty more for good measure.
The audience’s response to the songs, as to the rest of the show, is overwhelmingly positive, although the laughs of recognition that greet the start of each new song give the sense of watching a bumper episode of Glee. Newly added songs include, but are certainly not limited to, “Firework,” “Chandelier” and “Rolling in the Deep.” “The “Elephant Medley” is bigger than ever, bringing act one to a swoon worthy romantic close, and the movie’s hit tune “Come What May” remains a key attraction in the musical. “Your Song and “Roxanne” also remain, while “One Day I’ll Fly Away” is a disappointing omission.
Justin Levine’s expert arrangements give the hit parade score a seamlessly uniform sound. While there is the occasional sense that the music is overproduced, the infectious rhythms and melodies allow instant engagement, and the cast recording is sure to be a popular release.
In streamlining the musical for the stage, Logan has made the show-within-a-show resemble the actual show’s plot even more closely. Satine’s character must love a gangster rather than a maharajah, and Christian, Satine’s true love, plays the equivalent character to himself. Act one manages to accrue significant momentum, while the slender scenario runs out of steam in act two before reaching its inevitable tragic ending.
Director Alex Timbers does not have the chance to display his full talent for invention, such is the operate simplicity of the plot and characters. There is the odd moment of beauty, such as the cast of the show breathing as one around the fallen Satine. Working with a highly talented ensemble, choreographer Sonya Tayeh delivers crisp choreography with many a stunning moment.
Derek McLane’s scenic design may well be the most strikingly beautiful ever seen on a Broadway stage. The cleverness of the design, and its symbiotic relationship with Justin Townsend’s lighting design, is seen when varied locations are created away from the sparkling interior of the eponymous cabaret. The lighting often conjures the sense of watching a music video clip, and there is no danger of losing the attention of the youtube generation with all the constant changes to lighting and sets.
Catherine Zuber’s costume design could fill a hardcover coffee table book, such is the extent of detail and beauty. It seems as though every inch of lace and sparkle have been individually hand crafted to the highest standard. A highlight comes in act two when the Duke introduces Satine to society on the Boulevard Beaumarchais, with ensemble members sporting heavenly pale pastel finery.
Quiet moments in Moulin Rouge are rare, but there is a human love story at its centre, and the impact of this is infinitely boosted by the star performances of two of the greatest Broadway talents of the past decade. Singing with far greater flair than their movie counterparts, Aaron Tveit (Christian) and Karen Olivo (Satine) bring abundant passion and heart to the central romance, giving performances that must not be missed.
Danny Burstein brings a maniacally decadent grin to impresario Harold Zidler, who also serves as a very Emcee-like emcee. Tam Mutu figuratively twirls his moustache as the devilish, yet ultimately toothless, Duke.
Sahr Ngaujah brings a welcome degree of gravitas to noble artist Toulouse-Latrec.
Moulin Rouge is destined to be a monster hit, the sort of show where you book your tickets before booking your flight to New York. While the world stage awaits, the Broadway production is a special treat.
Moulin Rouge was reviewed 8pm Tuesday 2 July 2019 at Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York.
Photos: Matthew Murphy (Boston 2018)