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Broadway By Design: Derek McLane, Justin Townsend, Peter Hylenski and Catherine Zuber Bring MOULIN ROUGE from Page to Stage

Who is Annie without her red dress? Or Eva with out her balcony? It is the charge of the Broadway designer to transport the audience into the world of a show, whether it be Great Depression-era New York City or outside of the Casa Rosada.

In Broadway by Design, BroadwayWorld is shining a spotlight on the stellar designs of this Broadway season, show by show. Today, we continue the series with Derek McLane, Justin Townsend, Peter Hylenski and Catherine Zuber, who acted as scenic, lighting, sound and costume designers for Broadway's Moulin Rouge!.


The Moulin Rouge of Paris is a dazzling and spectacular universe, the symbol of the Parisian way of celebrating since 1889. Starting life as a popular cabaret and dance hall, the venue became an iconic music hall in the Roaring Twenties, and then a theatre where numerous famous French and International Artists stepped out into the limelight.

How did the designers bring that energy to the Broadway stage? For scenic designer Derek McLane, the process began with the script. "John Logan's description of the club said everything: 'The club: sex and smoke,'" He explains. "From there, my mind started buzzing. I looked at photos of 19th century Montmartre, photos of the Moulin Rouge itself (our elephant in the Hirschfeld is based directly on an incredible elephant that stood in the garden of the Moulin Rouge in the late 1800s-something they purchased from the Paris Exposition)."

Broadway By Design: Derek McLane, Justin Townsend, Peter Hylenski and Catherine Zuber Bring MOULIN ROUGE from Page to Stage

"I looked at photos of courtesan's boudoirs as I started to imagine Satine's apartment, and I was struck by the Asian and Far Eastern exotica that was fashionable in Paris at that time, and it recalled the period of my childhood that I lived in India, and my many trips to Morocco, and so those images made their way into the design."

Broadway By Design: Derek McLane, Justin Townsend, Peter Hylenski and Catherine Zuber Bring MOULIN ROUGE from Page to Stage

Broadway By Design: Derek McLane, Justin Townsend, Peter Hylenski and Catherine Zuber Bring MOULIN ROUGE from Page to Stage

"My biggest challenge in the design," says McLane, "was how to create a visual world that felt fresh and surprising, while honoring the spirt of the movie that so many people love. The movie has amazing, almost frenetic energy, much of which comes from fast moving camera shots, with cranes sweeping over beautiful miniatures of Paris (created by its production designer, Catherine Martin). Alex Timbers and I needed to find other ways to capture that energy, as fast panning cameras weren't a tool we could use."

Lighting designer Justin Townsend first referenced the static images within the film. "I also look to see how the camera moves and cuts in the space. There are, of course, no direct translations, but we found a vocabulary of wide shots that would suddenly zoom in tight, fast swooping moves dragging the eye through the space, and explosive blasts of sparkles that could be both playful and exciting."

Broadway By Design: Derek McLane, Justin Townsend, Peter Hylenski and Catherine Zuber Bring MOULIN ROUGE from Page to Stage

"I also found Derek McLane's stunning scenery gave me architectural challenges and solutions that I found completely inspiring," says Townsend. "His designs seem to almost drink light. I worked to find surprising discoveries and delicate moments that none of us could have anticipated but that seemed absolutely inevitable."

Broadway By Design: Derek McLane, Justin Townsend, Peter Hylenski and Catherine Zuber Bring MOULIN ROUGE from Page to Stage

Townsend also worked closely with Timbers to decide how much was too much. "There was an opportunity to continue to thicken the show with more and more light cues and we found that we needed to tightly control the feeling of excess. If you're traveling on the autobahn without a speed limit how fast is too fast? Here too we worked extremely hard to exactly find the pace and style of the show that exactly worked for the Moulin Rouge."

Where did Peter Hylenski begin with the sound design of Moulin Rouge? "[It's] drawn largely from the musical content, but more importantly how its musicality relates to the story being told," he explains. "The scale of each song breathes with the piece as a whole and I wanted the sound to parallel this dynamic. Together with Justin's lighting there becomes a fluidity between scene and song; concert versus introspective monologue. There are moments of sonic stillness (such as "Nature Boy") or moments of epic emotional outpouring (like "Roxanne"). The "size" of the sound connects the audience with the characters onstage through an audible energy, be it small or large."

"Moulin Rouge! is a show that breaks the barrier of the traditional proscenium through Derek's amazing scenic design. The cast are staged in newly created playing areas left and right of the stage, in opera style boxes, and downstage on a catwalk. All of these areas are in front of the sound system. The basics of audio design generally encourage that microphones are never in front of speakers. So we threw that basic theory out the window and began engineering solutions to allow the show to play in these spaces. We were able to give the audience positional cues to where the actors are standing and create a large sound all with the performers downstage of the speaker system."

Broadway By Design: Derek McLane, Justin Townsend, Peter Hylenski and Catherine Zuber Bring MOULIN ROUGE from Page to Stage

Costume designer Catherine Zuber looked first to the movie for inspiration. "The main inspiration was the film, with the amazing images created by Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin. Also, the paintings and illustrations of Toulouse Lautrec are filled with amazing characters of the bohemian life in Paris during the Belle Époque. Also, there are amazing photographs which reveal a fascinating and intriguing population."

Broadway By Design: Derek McLane, Justin Townsend, Peter Hylenski and Catherine Zuber Bring MOULIN ROUGE from Page to Stage

Broadway By Design: Derek McLane, Justin Townsend, Peter Hylenski and Catherine Zuber Bring MOULIN ROUGE from Page to Stage

"The biggest challenge on this project was similar to the challenge of designing costume for the Lincoln Center production of My Fair Lady," says Zuber. "Both Moulin Rouge! and My Fair Lady are beloved films, with distinctive and iconic visuals. The challenge is not to disappoint the audience!"

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Moulin Rouge! The Musical is now playing on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

Directed by Alex Timbers (Tony Award-nominated for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Peter and the Starcatcher) Moulin Rouge! The Musical has a book by John Logan (Tony Award for Red), choreography by Sonya Tayeh (Lucille Lortel Award and Obie Award for Kung Fu, and Emmy winner), and music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Justin Levine (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson).



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