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Now Opening: ‘Moulin Rouge’ Arrives on Broadway

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

The Broadway musical of the hit film incorporates over 70 pop songs

Moulin Rouge! The Musical! is finally upon us. Boasting not one but two exclamation points, it opens tonight at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on West 45th Street. Ever since its record-breaking engagement in Boston a year ago, Broadway has been teased and tantalized by the expected arrival of the new stage adaptation of director-screenwriter Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film. The idea of a sumptuous production that brings the ravishing, outrageous and Academy Award-winning design of the film to life on stage has been an enticing one. Although over the years, many creative folks have tried to turn a hit film into a hit musical, the results are more often somewhat lacking. For the brilliance of every The Lion King (which seemed like an impossible task back in 1997), there have been way too many costly failures.

Karen Olivo stars as Satine in ‘Moulin Rouge’ on Broadway (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Karen Olivo stars as Satine in ‘Moulin Rouge’ on Broadway (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

But it feels like the timing is right for Moulin Rouge!, which, when it first hit the big screen nearly twenty years ago, was not only a financial blockbuster with a worldwide gross of $179 million, but also has developed a deep and abiding cult following since it premiered. What Luhrmann and his fellow artists did was create a film style that was strikingly new and deliciously anachronistic. Who can forget the opening strains of Ewan McGregor singing “Nature Boy,” first introduced by Nat King Cole in 1947…only to discover that the film had instead transported us to 1900s Paris? What followed was a musical set in the famed Moulin Rouge, boasting fictional as well as real-life characters such as the artist Toulouse Lautrec – who, while drawing many of its inhabitants, claimed the nightclub as his personal haunt. Throwing in a love story with echoes of Puccini’s La Boheme, there was pretty much something for everybody. And with a soundtrack that included the sentimental 1950s ballad “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” as well as 1990’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” audience response was so strong that two CDs had to be released, due to the first one being such a success.

I saw the show in Boston last year with the same cast that is opening on Broadway tonight: Karen Olivo (Tony Award winner for the 2009 revival of West Side Story), Aaron Tveit (Next to Normal, Catch Me If You Can) and Danny Burstein (six-time Tony Award nominee and most recently Tevye in the 2015 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof). I can also report that this is one of the most impressive and beautiful designs of any musical I have ever seen. Under the guidance of director Alex Timbers (Beetlejuice, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), the team of Derek McLane (scenery), Catherine Zuber (costumes) and Justin Townsend (lighting) with twenty-two Tony Award nominations between them, makes you wonder if the 2020 Tonys in those categories shouldn’t already be starting the engraving process. 

Moulin Rouge Boston Set
                    The ‘Moulin Rouge!’ set during its out-of-town tryout in Boston (Photo: Ron Fassler) 

With the imprimatur of a book by Tony Award winner John Logan (Red), Moulin Rouge! The Musical! arrives with a prestigious pedigree. And in order to give audiences even more bang for their buck than the film, the stage version will boast portions of more than seventy songs.

How will audiences take to something new based on something close to twenty years old? In Baz Luhrmann’s own words: “This new theatrical production absolutely honors the movie, but finds a new life that is exciting and vital for this audience in this time” (emphasis Mr. Luhrmann’s). Funnily enough, in the DVD audio commentary of the film, Luhrmann admits to drawing from the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, currently the main characters in Anaïs Mitchell’s Tony Award winning Best Musical Hadestown.

Whether or not a similar victory for Moulin Rouge! The Musical! is in store, only time will tell. In the meantime, think about getting tickets as soon as you can, as the advance sale is already hefty, with audiences reportedly leaving the Hirschfeld Theatre walking on air. Although that could be the result of the heavy layers of heat New York City has been experiencing of late, it’s most probably due to the totally infectious music, terrific acting and imaginative direction of the stunning physical production that is this new musical.

For more of the best of Broadway this season, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in August 2019

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