Review: MOULIN ROUGE! Is a Thrilling Spectacle

Unfortunately, the spectacle feels somewhat hollow

By: May. 08, 2023
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Moulin Rouge!

The cast of the musical Moulin Rouge! has a difficult task. The beloved 2001 movie directed by Baz Luhrmann has achieved near-cult status. Its cast included Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, and Jim Broadbent, all at the top of their game. Catherine Martin's costume design and production design have never been better. A musical based on a film so iconic has a lot to live up to.

Unfortunately, John Logan's book for Moulin Rouge! makes changes to the plot that don't serve the show well, and the mountain of music added to it takes away from the emotional beats of the story. It's hard to take Satine's plight seriously when she's singing "Firework" by Katy Perry as her big character introduction song. So everything rests on the musical's design and cast to make it an enjoyable night at the theater.

Moulin Rouge!Miraculously, they succeed. Courtney Reed and John Cardoza are absolutely up to the challenge of taking on the characters made popular by Kidman and McGregor, and they completely make them their own. Catherine Zuber's costume design and Derek McLane's production design make every number of the show pop, with bright colors, neon lights, and lots of can-can skirts. There's even an elephant and a windmill in the theater itself.

For those unfamiliar with the film, it takes place in the Montmartre artist quarter of Paris in 1899. Christian (Cardoza) is a bohemian writer, newly arrived from the United States, who falls in with bohemians Toulouse-Lautrec (a mesmerizing Nick Rashad Burroughs) and Santiago (the suitably formidable Gabe Martínez). He falls in love at first sight with Satine (Reed), the shining diamond of the Moulin Rouge - a sparkly stage show under the direction of Harold Zidler (a deliciously flamboyant Austin Durant) that is actually teetering on the edMoulin Rouge!ge of financial ruin.

A case of mistaken identity causes Satine to think that Christian is the wealthy Duke of Monroth (actually played by the wickedly sinister but dashing Andrew Brewer), whose money might be the saving grace of the Moulin Rouge. However, once identities are cleared up, the bohemians are tasked with creating a new show to star Satine, the Duke is holding the club and Satine in his tight grip, and Christian and Satine have started a secret love affair that can only end in ruin.

The show touches on some dark themes and is definitely not suitable for children; there's also some raunchy dancing and costumes, but nothing beyond what's seen in the film. It's a flashy spectacle (literally, thanks to Justin Townsend's lighting design) that will sweep you up in its excitement.

If you've come anywhere near the musical theatre side of TikTok, then you're likely familiar Moulin Rouge!with the "Roxanne" number from the show. It's almost certainly the highlight, with a beautiful tango-inspired dance number (Libby Lloyd's Nini is hard to take your eyes off of) and Cardoza acting his heart out while his vocals soar over the song. It's impossible not to feel his agony and highlights that the show functions best when the actors are allowed space to really delve into the deep emotions of the story without the thousands of modern song tidbits getting in the way and distracting the audience.

From Cardoza to Reed to Burroughs, every single member of Moulin Rouge! is stunning in every single moment. Alex Timbers's direction creates a spectacle that will have your jaw dropping in amazement at the impressive set pieces and the largescale dance numbers. Just don't expect the show to have the same emotional depth as the film it's based on; you can't be properly afraid of the Duke when he's singing "Only Girl (in the World).

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Moulin Rouge! is at DPAC through May 14. You can find more information and buy tickets here.


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