Review: MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL at Pantages Theatre

Moulin Rouge! Is Drunk With Music

By: Jul. 22, 2022
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There have been jukebox musicals for decades, but never has a jukebox been so overstuffed that the 45s came spiraling out of the cabinet, spinning off the stage to decapitate the audience. This Tony-winning musical extravaganza is completely ridiculous and utterly intoxicating. It pounds you into submission, and before you know it, you're having a marvelous time.

Based on the Baz Luhrmann cinematic spectacular from 2001, Moulin Rouge! juxtaposes a classic tale of love between a bohemian writer and a courtesan suffering from consumption with a non-stop soundtrack of anachronistic established modern tunes. Artist Christian (Conor Ryan) falls instantly in love with the Moulin Rouge's headliner, Satine (Courtney Reed). Through farcical misunderstandings, Satine assumes Christian to be a wealthy duke and potential benefactor, but once she discovers the mistake, she's already fallen for the penniless writer. With the landmark Moulin Rouge in Paris crumbling financially, Satine must continue to seduce the creepy-yet-sexy duke (David Harris) while carrying on a clandestine affair with Christian. As the noose tightens around the lovers' necks, the amount of blood that Satine hacks into her white tissue increases exponentially throughout the evening.

Moulin Rouge! is a visual smorgasbord. Songs erupt so often, it's as if your dog were sitting on the television remote, causing it to constantly flip channels. While the movie contained many 20th century rock hits like LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade", David Bowie's "Heroes", and Elton John's "Your Song", the play more than doubles the original allotment. Director Alex Timbers (who collected one of the 10 Tonys for the production) and writer John Logan show few qualms about lifting the audience out of the story every time a character starts the lyrics of a recognizable Rihanna or P!nk hit, causing the audience to applaud or giggle like they're contestants on Name That Tune. Logan's libretto cleverly takes enough from the beloved film while expanding the story and altering it for a new milieu. The book gives the villain more personality than the cartoon caricature presented in the film, though strangely denies him any resolution at the end - he just goes poof into the night. The love story, the most important aspect, stays front and center and gives the audience the suspense and passion required to enrapture them.

The cast is impeccable. Reed (who originated the role of Princess Jasmine in the stage production of Disney's Aladdin) captures the vulnerability and edginess of the sparkling diamond. Both hers and Ryan's singing voices sound theatrical, but are gritty enough for rock/pop hits, and each has outstanding range. Ryan infuses Christian with an endearing naivete, but someone needs to stop him from constantly and distractingly fussing with his own hair. Austin Durant is wickedly funny as the ringleader Harold Zidler, while Andre Ward is earnest as the revolutionary bohemian artist Toulouse-Lautrec. More grounded than in the movie, Harris is both malicious and becharming as the villainous duke.

Timbers leads a team of production designers who each won a deserved Tony. The set design by Derek McLane is scrumptious. It looks like a Hallmark store exploded before February 14th. The color motif of reds, blues, and greens is opulent and appropriately garish. The costumes by Catherine Zuber are strikingly late 19th century Parisian yet with a 21st century sleaze. Justin Townsend's lighting is a blaring treat of bright floodlights and green ooze. Sonya Tayeh's choreography is an athletic thrill-ride of erotic images and exacting movements.

On paper, Moulin Rouge! should NOT work. It's too much! Too much music, too much light, too much gaudiness. But like an infectious laugh you can't control, the musical gets into your system and keeps it racing for almost three hours.

All photos by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade



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