The Tony Award-winning Best Musical “Moulin Rouge: The Musical” might appear to be just another movie made into a stage musical. Understandably, the idea alone might cause some groans, but you can wipe the frowns off your faces because this stage adaptation is a dazzling, dizzying, sparkling treat.
Still as rich in color and light as the Broadway production, “Moulin Rouge” plays almost like a stadium show, with the audience moving their heads to the music and cheering as if their favorite rock stars just finished their favorite song. (The Gaga/Britney/Eurythmics mash-up “Backstage Romance” is a crowd favorite.)
Based on Baz Luhrmann’s iconic movie, the stage version follows the same story of Moulin Rouge’s sparkling diamond, Satine (Courtney Reed), falling for bohemian song-writer Christian (Conor Ryan) while engaged to the nefarious Duke (David Harris). Cleverly, the story has been reorganized and streamlined to make it more theatrical, and the music altered to include more and newer music.
As far as the soundtrack is concerned, songs and medleys from the original film are still present, but tunes from P!nk, Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Rhianna, and more are added, mixed in, and switched out to great effect. What this does is keeps the story and the music fresh for those that might be very familiar with the 2001 cult classic. Rather than repeat all the same lines and story beats (like the stage version of “Pretty Woman: The Musical” for example), book writer John Logan has taken Luhrmann and Craig Pearce’s script and rejiggered certain aspects to keep it fresh and, sometimes, even surprising.
One of the nice changes is that the Duke is now a sexy, smoldering creature that is more villainous than buffoon. Toulouse-Lautrec (Andre Ward) has more to do with a nice backstory involving Satine, while the Argentinian Santiago (Gabe Martinez) has his prominent romance this time. Even Harold Zigler (Austin Durant) takes a bigger role as Satine’s boss and substitute father.
While the editing of the film kept it moving, Sonya Tayeh’s choreography, Alex Timbers’ direction, and the lighting design by Justin Townsend make this a true spectacle in every sense of the word. The sound design by Peter Hylenski is also to be noted, and while much has been made of the limited orchestra (as most of the backing tracks are pre-recorded), it all works here as an audio/visual double whammy of sight and sound.
The entire cast is fantastic, with Ward, Martinez, and Durant the supporting standouts. Harris is pretty impressive as the towering Duke, combining raw sexuality and bringing more danger to the character.
Ryan has a flawless, even effortless voice as the energetic and earnestly sexy Christian. With his shaggy hair and lithe body, he commands the stage in a way that pulls the audience into his innocence and charm. I’d even argue he’s better than Aaron Tveit, who was fantastic in his own right and originated the role on Broadway. Reed is a strong and confident Satine, changing the somewhat coquettish Nicole Kidman version, to a much more confident, self-assured, tough cookie.
In some ways, this is a theater piece that general audiences from all over will enjoy. They’ll dig the nods to their favorite pop songs, the eye-catching sets, and the powerhouse vocals and dancers on display. But while it has that “audience pleasing” outline that made shows like “Mamma Mia” and “Jersey Boys” hits, it shouldn’t be written off as simple audience-baiting. There’s so much artistry here it’s almost too much to take in for one viewing. And, in fact, I suspect this show will have a eat visitors over the next month.
This is the show to see this holiday season, not just because we can-can-can, but because we want-want-want to. It’s daring, delightful, dashing, and downright delicious.