I left the show trailing streamers, confetti and what was left of my breath. The world premiere, Broadway-bound musical MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL has just reopened America’s oldest and most beautiful theatre, Boston’s Emerson Colonial — and what a rebirth! The show is a no holds barred, dazzling live theatrical reinvention of Baz Luhrman’s Oscar-nominated movie musical, fleshing out its theatricality and bringing it to luscious fruition onstage. Despite an overlong second act which threatens to overwhelm its momentum, the show is a luxe pastiche of music, dance, lighting, sets, costumes, characters, and performances that nearly drown our sensibilities, and overflow the already gilded confines of the theatre itself. I lapped it up.
MOULIN ROUGE takes its name from the late 19th century Parisian hotspot in Montmartre where aristocrats, artists, and the bourgeoisie coalesced around a louche demimonde of coquettes and boulevardiers, soubrettes and sodomites sipping champagne and lager, eating quail and caviar, while corsetted chorines scissored the air in a new dance called the French cancan. “To lose” oneself while Toulouse-Lautrec haunts the action is the order of the day and Toulouse-Lautrec is here quite poignantly played by Sahr Ngaujah.
Embedded in this roiling cauldron of passion, pathos, and unbridled appetite is the tale of a tragic triangle. We first see the sexy Satine descending from on high into the glittering underworld over which she reigns. Tony winner Karen Olivo has the smoldering sensuality and sly grit of Eartha Kitt, and reminds me how miscast was Nicole Kidman’s porcelain doll movie version.
Satine is pursued by many, but especially two men– the Duke of Monroth (the devilishly handsome Tam Mutu) a powerful scoundrel who threatens to possess or destroy her, body and soul, if she will not relent. Then there’s Christian a brilliant but naive young songwriter who is smitten on sight by the worldly Satine– and she by him. Aaron Tveit brings yearning to ever more sonorous heights as he pursues and wins Satine’s heart:
The direction takes its cue from the film’s brilliant visual editing, and propels this extravagantly talented, charismatic, ensemble non-stop at warp speed, from one end of the theater to the other in a wild pastiche of songs by artists of the last 50 years from Marilyn Monroe to Queen Bey, Patti Labelle and Tina Turner to Lady Gaga, Eurythmics, The Police, and the Rolling Stones, from Donna Summer and Whitney Houston to Katy Perry, and countless musical hits sampled and spun off in between. The choreography never loses a step from Fosse to hip hop, disco to a fiery second-act life & death tango whipped up by the hilarious Ricky Rojas and Robyn Hurder. The show also introduces new tunes, and as one sharp young friend and theater goer observed to me, the format actually allows for new songs to be added over time to keep the show edgy and fresh!
Though MOULIN ROUGE traffics in familiar tropes (a ringmaster of sorts presiding over a carnival of misfits and tragic lovers; Danny Burstein here as emcee Harold Zidler brilliantly tempers his tyranny with tenderness) its dazzling and canny Tony Award-winning creative team fertilizes this familiar ground to bountiful effect. The result could have easily been an exhausting disaster; in fact, Act II needs paring down to retain focus and dramatic momentum. Even so, this lavish musical collage of choreographic, narrative, and operatic fervor, taps a vein of real feeling embodied by its stars with whom we connect. We vibe off their chemistry and their passion and we remain anchored to their humanity even as a bohemian rhapsody of movement and emotion swirls around them.
You only have until August 19 to get lucky and get a ticket. It will be the talk of the town and the fashion world from now until next year’s Tony’s. MUST SEE the breathtaking world premiere of “MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL” in Boston before it goes to Broadway at the EMERSON COLONIAL THEATRE THROUGH AUGUST 19!!