Review: National Tour Of MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL at Nederlander Theatre

The grand, glitter and confetti-filled spectacle runs through May 14

By: Apr. 22, 2022
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Review: National Tour Of MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL at Nederlander Theatre

A grand, glitter and confetti-filled spectacle, the Tony Award-winning musical Moulin Rouge! The Musical officially opened the national tour at the Nederlander Theatre in Chicago on April 21 and those who attended may still be giggling from excitement while picking confetti out of their hair.

This glorious show is the king of all jukebox musicals. Pop music melodies are utilized as brushstrokes to create an Impressionistic portrait of a kinetic, Belle Epoque-era France. The tunes come at your fast and furious. Just as you have identified a musical hook to a certain pop song (and, in some cases, occasionally laughed at the absurdity of its placement in the show), the next tune has come along to work it's earworm magic.

And while the show's music co-arrangers Justin Levine, Katie Kresek, Charlie Rosen and Matt Stine never set foot on stage, make no mistake, they are collectively one of the stars of the show, seamlessly blending more than 70 songs that span the history of modern pop music. The first act closer "Elephant Medley" alone credits some 24 songwriters in a medley than runs just over five minutes. The transitions in the show from one melody to the next is virtually undetectable. Everything ends up sounding like it always belonged together. No easy task considering the genres encompass everything from hip hop to country.

Book writer John Logan does his best to flesh out characters from the 2001 jukebox musical film (and, to be completely fair, the film's script by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce didn't have a lot of substance to begin with). The actors all elevate the thin plot, thankfully.

Just before the turn of the 20th Century. Christian (Conor Ryan), an idealistic dreamer and songwriter from Lima, OH is fresh off the boat and looking to make his mark on Bohemian society. He immediately meets impassioned playwright/artist Toulouse-Lautrec (Andre Ward) and fiery Argentinian choreographer Santiago (Gabe Martinez). Both men's passion for life and all things Bohemian (namely their mantra of truth, beauty, freedom and love on the ) are just the tonic Christian is looking for in his quest to find himself.

"This is a hard life we lead, but we have our honor," Toulouse-Lautrec tells Christian before he and Santiago break into Lorde's Royals (which seamlessly flows into T-Rex's "Children of the Revolution" followed by Christian's soaring vocals on Fun's "We are Young").

The club's "sparkling diamond" Satine (Courtney Reed in this performance and Yvette Gonzalez -Nacer at certain other performances) makes a stunning entrance to Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds are Forever" before breaking into the familiar tune from the film "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" is an interesting choice; a somber moment -almost an inner monologue the singer is having with herself, as if trying to make peace with what she has had to do to get through this life.

Review: National Tour Of MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL at Nederlander Theatre She has already been pledged to the Duke of Monroth (played by David Harris), who -despite being musically introduced to us with the Rolling Stone's hit "Sympathy for the Devil" is actually less the moustache-twirling villain he was in the film thanks to Harris' nuanced performance here. He's possessive, sure, And although he has murdered people who have crossed him before, he wants to claim the Moulin Rouge's "sparkling diamond" as his own and rescue her from the life of abject poverty in a subplot that is not too distant from "My Fair Lady." I would even argue that Harris' Duke is less of a jerk than that musical's Henry Higgins, but I digress.

Logan's book raises the stakes early on, with Satine in the final stages of tuberculosis who realizes she must beguile the patronage of the Duke to secure the future of her beloved Moulin Rouge (and thus cement a legacy for herself and a ensure a home at the Moulin Rouge for all those she loves before she dies).

Ryan's Christian begins with wide-eyed optimism and shifts quickly into deep love for Satine, followed by heartbreak. His clarion pleading in The Police's "Roxanne" shifts into anger of betrayal of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." The latter is sung with such conviction, one wonders if Ryan should be given his own Las Vegas residency over that of the British singer. He's just that good.

Review: National Tour Of MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL at Nederlander Theatre Reed's Satine is enchanting. Though hardened from the circumstances of her upbringing, she is determined to eke out the best life that she can for herself and those around her. She and Ryan both share intense chemistry and are both able to match each other in vocal prowess.

The term "alternate" sometimes conjures up a notion of "lesser than,"' but having caught Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer in the role in an earlier performance prior to the show's official opening we can happily say that both of the tour's Satines are amazing. The role is demanding vocally and it makes sense to have it shared between two actresses. Moreover, this might be one of the rare times that you want to catch the show twice just to see each of them in the role.

As the master of ceremonies Harold Zidler, Austin Durant is the mirror image of Satine. Hardened by the world around him, he is able to turn his gregarious nature on at will. He's more than capable of getting the crowd on his feet and his dance with the green fairy of absinthe (to Sia's "Chandelier") is definitely a stand out.

As Toulouse-Lautrec, Ward's take on "Nature Boy" (recorded by both Nat King Cole and David Bowie) adds some depth to a character that on film existed as mere caricature. Now a song of his unrequited love with Satine, it is a somber yet beautiful moment of theater. The intimacy of the moment is in stark contrast with the rest of the show (which, it is to say, is so over the top, it just may have circled said top several times over). Moments like these thankfully ground the show.

Review: National Tour Of MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL at Nederlander Theatre "Backstage Romance," the medley that opens the second act and features a forbidden tryst between choreographer Santiago and Rouge dancer Nini (Libby Lloyd) is another highlight. It crackles with sensual, sexual tension and is yet another showcase of Levine's talent as an arranger. It builds from a duet to a full-on ensemble number that injects both heat and energy to the show.

Along with Lloyd's Nini, the fierce sisterhood of the Rouge also includes Keely Beirne (La Chocolat), Nicci Claspell (Arabia) and Andres Quintero (Baby Doll). The quartet adds the requisite spice to the "Creole Lady Marmalade" as well as the rest of the proceedings. Each artist elevates their character from the film's "back up singer" to full-fledged character and the bond they share as characters, castmates and performers is obvious.

Derek McLane's Scenic designer frames the initial stage in cascading, scalloped hearts with "Moulin Rouge" centered in red neon light. A red windmill with turning blades is in a box stage right and a giant, opulently jeweled blue elephant is in a box stage left. They fit in perfectly with the overall opulence of the former movie palace that is home to the show.

McLane's attention to detail is staggering. In his tiny models of Parisian apartments and buildings, you can see curtains hanging. The realism manages to heighten the force perspective to give you a sense that the entire world of Paris is indeed outside the windows of his sets.

Lighting designer Justin Townsend bathes the Nederlander Theater in luscious and sultry red lights at the beginning of the show and throughout the glitzy excess still is able to bring into the focus the moments on stage that should be drawing your attention beyond the usual spotlight.

When Satine makes her dazzling debut, Townsend uses meticulously focuses pinpoints of light on Reed's costume to mimic the internal refractions of a cut diamond. It is a triumph of stage lighting craft (and I can't imagine just how many computers are running the lighting board to achieve this sort of specificity).

Costume designer Catherine Zuber's designs feature elaborately beaded corsets with feathers and fishnets and formal wear that -while black-still manages to shimmer and sparkle (again, Townsend's lighting can be thanked here). Of particular worth noting: the costumes for the musical's show-within-a-show seem to be inspired by Toulouse'Lautrec's masterpiece At the Moulin Rouge that hangs down the street at the Art Institute of Chicago. It's as if they stepped out of the picture frame and onto the stage.

Review: National Tour Of MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL at Nederlander Theatre The choreography by Sonya Tayeh and associate choreographer Camden Gonzales is high energy. Like the musical score, it is a seamless blend of the traditional (tango and can-can) along with Fosse-inspired moments of sensuality and drag ball voguing.

Director Alex Timbers keeps the show, which clocks in at just a little over two and a half hours, moving quickly so that the denizens of the Parisian nightclub never overstay their welcome.

It's gaudy. It's glitzy. It's one hell of a party. Moulin Rouge! is one you don't want to miss!

How To Get Tickets

Moulin Rouge! The Musical runs through May 14 at the Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph. Tickets $62.50-$162.50 with a limited number of $25 tickets by lottery. for more info.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy


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