With cinemas benefiting from summer blockbusters filling multiplex auditoriums, it was only a matter of time before the Los Angeles theatre scene received a shot in the arm (no pun intended), exclaiming it was officially back as a premier destination for live stage theatrics. The production to do it is seemingly the North American tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical by John Logan (book), which is based on Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film. On the July 7th opening night in Los Angeles, a sold-out audience at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, with celebrities in tow, matched the indefatigable energy onstage, which was complemented by some of the best production values this reviewer has ever seen. Residents and tourists will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the escapades of the Alex Timbers-directed Moulin Rouge! through September 4th.
The breathtaking scenic design by Derek McLane features multicolored sparkles and shimmers galore, with the Parisian Moulin Rouge cabaret club, specifically, being comprised of dazzling heart shapes layered iteratively. On opposite sides of the proscenium are a gorgeously decorated elephant and a windmill that spins without interruption. Furthermore, the lighting design by Justin Townsend beautifully underscores the expensive set pieces and the flamboyant dancers — clad in lace, stockings, bustiers, corsets, and more (costumes are by Catherine Zuber) — who fervently sway and shift their bodies to the pulsating sound design by Peter Hylenski, which contributes to a milieu that oftentimes feels more like a concert than a conventional musical. The sound is brash, full of vitality like the performers, and galvanizes, in large part due to the pit orchestra musicians, supervised by Justin Levine, who bring new life to the past-and-present pop songs, which Moulin Rouge! pays homage to.
The premise — taking place at the turn of the 20th century — focuses on a singer-songwriter named Christian from Lima, Ohio, who travels to Paris, France, for artistic inspiration. He meets a pair of Bohemians, Santiago and Toulouse-Lautrec, who are trying to get a play, aptly named Bohemian Rhapsody, produced at the Moulin Rouge. Upon witnessing the American’s talent, the Bohemians, who are driven to get their big break at the club, ask Christian to ingratiate himself to the club’s headliner, Satine, who, along with a collection of dancers, are managed by the establishment’s master of ceremonies, Harold Zidler. The club is, however, in dire financial straits and Zidler is intent on winning over the patronage of the Duke of Monroth, who, like Christian, finds himself smitten with Satine. Consequently, Satine finds herself in a dilemma between choosing love or securing the financial future of the Moulin Rouge and the livelihood of her fellow dancers.
While the plot becomes more meaningful when the stakes are at their highest in the second act, it still takes a backseat to the resplendent spectacle of this production. This is a jukebox musical turned up to 11 and makes no apologies for the disparate genres of pop ditties it weaves together into seamless pastiches. From the iconic “Lady Marmalade” to “The Sound of Music,” “Take on Me,” “Diamonds are Forever,” “I Will Always Love You,” “Royals,” “Material Girl,” “Everlasting Love,” “Let’s Dance,” “We Are Young,” to “Your Song,” the can-can dance, etc., there is no shortage of recognizable hits that will appeal to both fans and non-fans of musicals alike. Certainly, while some criticisms are valid regarding the derivative nature of the show, and how some of the songs don’t really push the story forward like traditional musicals, there is no mistaking the fact that attendees’ eyes and ears will inevitably swoon over the sumptuously visual and aural presentation of Moulin Rouge! The Musical.
Front and center of this ceaselessly diverting experience are Courtney Reed as Satine, the starlet who has seen it all, and Conor Ryan as the comparatively naïve and innocent Christian. While Satine and Christian are an unlikely pairing on the surface, Reed and Ryan share a palpable bond founded on a staunch and intense commitment to their roles. Neither holds anything back, unleashing their emotions via song, as Reed does with a soaring version of “Firework” and Ryan does with a powerful, anguish-ridden rendition of “Roxanne” – which completely reimagines The Police’s hit. Their characters mirror each other’s love-struck turmoil during “Come What May,” and “Rolling in the Deep,” the latter of which nearly takes ownership from Adele, as it stirs the soul and causes goosebumps to spontaneously appear.
The Moulin Rouge’s owner and emcee, the scepter-wielding Harold Zidler, is portrayed by the amazingly talented Austin Durant. His character is tasked with, and succeeds in guiding the audience’s enthusiasm, garnering laughs particularly during rehearsals of Bohemian Rhapsody and, not to mention, helping to ballast the central conflict by guilting Satine into appeasing the imperious Duke, played by the underrated David Harris, who is fiercely believable as the musical’s antagonist.
The Bohemians, Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago, come across as genuine artists devoted to the dogma of “truth, beauty, freedom, and love” thanks to personable depictions by André Ward and Gabe Martínez, respectively. Ward offers sincere heart to Toulouse-Lautrec, as evidenced by his performance of “Nature Boy,” and Martínez imbues his Santiago with sizzling showmanship, highlighted by a scorching “Bad Romance” dance showcase with Libby Lloyd’s Nini, and the phenomenal ensemble, at the start of Act II. The execution of this number is so extraordinarily stupefying (a credit to choreographer Sonya Tayeh) that the opening night crowd deservingly fell under its spell, rewarding the cast with an extended standing ovation upon its conclusion.
All in all, although there are musicals that boast more creativity from a narrative standpoint, Moulin Rouge! The Musical doesn’t attempt to be something it is not, instead harnessing its panache and abundant resources for the all-important purpose of entertaining with sensory thrills, delivered by a dedicated cast that lays it all on the line, taking its audience along a delectably vibrant, vigorous, and vivacious odyssey. The extended encore/curtain call, and the celebratory confetti that is launched from the stage, will additionally remind crowds of the memorable revelry they were invited to partake in over the previous three hours.
For more information, and to purchase tickets to Moulin Rouge! The Musical, please visit: BroadwayinHollywood.com