July 2018


The day that Moulin Rouge announced its pre-Broadway world premiere, my sister Kaylee and I kept steadfast eyes on the calendar for its ticket release. 

Skip six months to the moment the curtain fell on the show for the Saturday matinee’s final time, when I turned to Kaylee and said, “So, we’re seeing this again when it hits Broadway, right?” If I were still living in Boston, I would have gone home that night and bought another round/tried our luck at the lottery  every day for the next three weeks.

My takeaway? I want to live in that glorious bohemian fantasy forever.

The one time I watched the Moulin Rouge! film three years ago with my sophomore college year roommate, I was at once enticed and liberated. Why can’t you reinvent pop culture, shifting it into a sweep-you-off-your-feet affectionate French tale on the cusp of the twentieth century? This was pre-Hamilton, an excuse to align audiences of the musical, romantic, and pop persuasions in one heart string-tugging movie.

I’m sad to say my own copy of the DVD has since stayed in its plastic wrapping, and Kaylee and I never sat down to watch it. Still, I now understood the fervent appeal of Moulin Rouge!, adored the show-within-a-show aspects, and clutched at the story lines of the four main pillars (truth, beauty, freedom, and love) threaded throughout.

Though years had passed and I’d forgotten details, I had to see the stage production.

Aaron Tveit, whose performance as a young French revolutionary in Les Miserables instantly ensnared me into his fan base, would be starring as Christian… a young American-turned-French revolutionary. And its world premiere would be in Boston, my home for 22 years, at the Emerson Colonial Theatre, formerly under the ownership of my alma mater. I am addicted to full circles and musicals and jumped on the Colonial Theatre website the moment tickets went on sale.

For me, the release of this show was thrilling in the possible–and endless–avenues of modernized direction that could be taken. I’m here for the song and dance that creates conflict, stirs realizations, allows us a glimpse into a character’s mind that can’t be achieved any other way. To do all of that with original compositions and musical hits of the last seventeen years? And a collection of cancan, jazz, and contemporary dance styles? Call me done.

Here’s a secret: Moulin Rouge immediately took my favor over almost every show I’ve ever seen, including a few Broadway blockbusters of the last few years.

Does my bias change the fact that I think it will be stiff competition on the Great White Way? Not a bit. Like a sage, I envision the high demand, hourly buzz, and charmed/dazed theatre-goers who walk on clouds for weeks after. Boston has been dazzled: New York, just you wait.

Moulin Rouge is the romantic narrative of its namesake Parisian theatre, the Moulin Rouge, and its colorful inhabitants. Christian, an expat from Ohio, arrives in Paris’s Latin Quarter with dreams of becoming a successful composer. His secret love affair with the star of the theatre, Satine, is the delicious catapult that launches high-energy musical numbers; passionate, stolen moments together; and an ultimately tragic-yet-bright ending.

The Emerson Colonial Theatre is bathed in the rose red light of the set, a glitzy and sensual threshold into the opening number. Once cartoon-esque performers, the sharp angles of their mustaches and devil horns cutting into the spaces below the iconic windmill and elephant, filed slowly on stage, I was enraptured. It’s as if the performance begins the moment you enter. A spell cast meaningfully, the lines of reality and imagination are blurred on impact.

That’s why when Danny Burnstein’s Harold Zidler arrives and addresses the audience (the poor, poverty-stricken balcony dwellers and stuffy aristocrats in the orchestra), it doesn’t feel unusual. We’ve already been transported into the world, already suspended of disbelief, and are now guests at the Moulin Rouge. The fourth wall fails to exist, drawing you ever more intimately in as the narrative moves towards its roots.

Beginning with a steamy performance of “Lady Marmalade,” as big a crowd-pleaser as it was in the film, we are quickly brought to Christian’s how, and the loveliest mashup of “Royals” and “We Are Young” graced the room. It resonated in empowering design: young artists, hoping to change the world, without money but with the will to paint their passion with words, music, and dance.

Aaron Tveit co-stars with Karen Olivo, another Broadway veteran with credits from In The Heights, West Side Story, and the Chicago production of Hamilton. Her introduction with “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” sparkled, and her rendition of Katy Perry’s “Firework” covered my entire body in chills. The two share a rhapsodic chemistry that soared from their eyes, their veins, their every fiber. Every harmony they shared was sculpted by angels–or was it the green fairies? If their numbered renditions of “Your Song” weren’t a hymn of exaltation, I don’t know what is. With every passing verse, each with new meaning, I was put through the ringer of emotions.

And their “Come What May” was a tearjerker every time.

“Come with me to the stars.”

Christian’s proclamation to Satine, holding her close as, behind them, stars glistened and the windmill could be detected in the distance, resulted in a collective Oh the by audience. In the middle of the glamorous “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” and “Shut Up and Dance/Raise Your Glass” numbers is immense romance. The color red permeates the set, crafted as soft and intense passions all at once, enhancing and transforming the mood where it needs to. I think we all need to relish in the magic Moulin Rouge spins for us. As Toulouse so wisely says, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

Art breathes life into art. Love, and loving profoundly, are the uplifting forces behind this powerhouse show. Coupling this with longtime hits, watching the ways they have been morphed to unhurriedly express emotions of love, loss, sorrow, and renewal–that is the product of genius. Baz Lurhmann knew it enough the first time around; and in this glittering adaptation, director Alex Timbers elicits honor and individuality around every bend.

Moulin Rouge is alight with dance, and all the more exquisite for it.

I have forever been a fan of contemporary dance styles, and oh, are they spicy in this production. Moulin Rouge embraces the cancan, first performed at the actual Moulin Rouge, as well as the rigorous elements of jazz and contemporary dance. Wait until the “Bad Romance” scene, electric from its tango-inspired duet to nuanced group number. It’s just fun, a marvelous turntable of escape.

I never ceased to believe it was 1899, thanks to the envy-worthy costumes. I still like to think maybe, somewhere, these larger-than-life routines existed. Even in a drunken haze of absinthe, where a slew of green fairies floated across the room.

We need Moulin Rouge at this exact moment for, if nothing else, hope.

At such a pivotal time in history, when young revolutionaries are seeking the truth, beauty, and freedom of tomorrow, it is the message of love orbiting Moulin Rouge that drives its audiences here as much as its characters there. Not only romantic love, but love of friends, of art, of the divine being that drives us to seek happiness, of what is right. It gives us hope for the notion that we can be happy, that we can influence and be influenced and find a muse worth living for. That though today may look dull, tomorrow can burst with a blank canvas bathed in a golden rising sun.

I seek theatre for a chance to escape, to be inspired by new stories, to see reflections in its mirror. And in a show that thrives on its livelihood, its layers of performance, its shine, I left satisfied, raw, and pulsating with love.

I feel so grateful to have witnessed Moulin Rouge in its debut. The single downfall is that there isn’t a cast album I can listen to on loop–yet.

Moulin Rouge closes on August 19. You can purchase your tickets here. I wish I had the chance to see it more, but this once has moved mountains in my soul. For now, I’ll be waiting for its Broadway announcement.

Traveling with friends is so fulfilling. I appreciate my solo travel time, because it’s nice to not have to abide by anyone’s agenda, and I’m instantly reflective of my experiences. But to travel with friends, a close sibling, or a significant other creates memories you can actually enjoy with someone else. Having a friend to share minor disasters, mind-blowing sights, and mega-fun activities with will mean a lot to both of you. Between studying abroad and travels with my sister and one of my closest friends, I have a film reel of moments that plays on a loop (even unconsciously) in my mind, and that I reminisce on at get togethers frequently.

I don’t believe in traveling with more than four friends at a time. To avoid any unnecessary blow ups, don’t join too many cooks in the kitchen. Eliminating a large group will make your trip 300x times better and you don’t even know it. Still, trying to consolidate two or three sets of ideas–and then following through with everything–isn’t always the easiest. Here are some tips for your next trip with a friend that ensure it isn’t the last.

Figure out what you want

Do this before you go. I like to start big, like on Pinterest or an Excel sheet (thanks, Sam). Start a group board, or a joint Google Doc, and hammer out everything about the place you’re going. Let your joint ideas roam, and once you’ve sorted out every possible cupcake shop you can hit, prioritize. Both of you, even if it isn’t written down, should have some things that you can’t leave without doing, and talk about them beforehand. That way, you’re on the same page, and find harmony among your choices.

It’s important that you both are equally receptive to and firm with wants, so that neither one feels gypped on an experience. I’m a planner by nature (thanks, mom), but whittling your list down doesn’t really have to happen until just before the trip, or even until you get there. Have respect for one another’s expectations and be willing to listen the entire way.

Example 1:

During my semester abroad, my close friend, Kayla, and I spent our fall break primarily in Austria. In the weeks leading up to it, Kayla and I would meet, usually Irish chocolate in tow, and scour Pinterest for what we wanted to do. When we arrived in Salzburg, we purchased our 48 hour Salzburg Cards and spent that night notating our attraction pamphlets and conferring on our selections. We made a game plan beginning with the things that we both wanted to do, and prioritized the things that we marked separately. There was plenty of time for random to-dos once all was said and done.

Example 2:

Last summer, my best friend Sam started an Excel sheet that covered EVERYTHING about our trip to Europe. Everything: budgeting, attractions, lodging. She arranged it so that we could drop suggestions into the correct sections, and when we were together, we would chat about our thoughts. It wasn’t until we were there that we solidified our plans, finalizing the things we were both content with.

Assess your budgets

This one I’ve never had trouble with because, financially, I’m surrounded by like-minded pals. And yes, we all have an absurd obsession with dessert and Ireland (I mean it), but that’s besides the point. Still, we’d have some sort of talk about what worked best for our individual budgets. If you can travel with friends with the same monetary beliefs, it saves a whole lot of trouble.

We all know money talk isn’t comfortable. Where my friends and I are all in the same boat–college graduates and students, work forcers and loan payers–we understand what the most we are willing to spend on any given thing. Our conversations happen as we are planning, starting with the cost of flights, and what the best bargain we find will be.

Then, it goes as such: “This looks fun! And affordable!” “Ooooh, we can get a pass!”

If this isn’t the case for you, do not feel weird about bringing up the topic of money. There are one million ways to budget travel–it’s all the rage–so open up the dialogue and dodge a spontaneous five-star restaurant fix if it isn’t in the funds. Know what you are and are not comfortable spending, and discuss your personal limits.

Allow time to relax, and relax separately

No matter how close you and your friend are, you need to allot time to just be, and to be alone(ish). Even if you’re in the same room, some quiet time apart will work wonders. Whether you sit and journal, read a book, flip through Instagram, send messages and photos of your adventures so far to loved ones, do something for yourself. The go-go-go mentality is draining, and unfortunately, so much direct time spent with another person may lead to random resentment.

Any time I’m traveling with friends, when we’re on a break–either in the middle of the day, to restore our minds and sweaty clothes, or after dinner–we gather silence, and all it takes is ten minutes to feel refreshed. I don’t mean refreshed from not interacting in a bad way: only that being with myself for a short while gives me that burst of self-introspection that I need. Traveling wears on us, especially when done in long bursts, and a small mind-seclusion is all you need. It energizes and tranquilizes all at once.

Embrace the unexpected

Like falling asleep on a bus and missing the stop for your next museum, or hiking up a highway to a fortress, or staying out reaaaaally late listening to music. Once in a while, it rains, and you’re left hopping around inside a stall, dumping water out of your shoe and wringing the rest out of your sock. Occasionally, you end up with a tour guide who deviously sidesteps many promised sights and instead offers a weak attempt at a ghost story. AND mistakes C.S. Lewis with J.R.R. Tolkien.

A lot of my fondest travel moments have happened accidentally. You can never predict how a day will turn out, and you know what? It’s the best. Logistically, you might scramble a bit, but emotionally, you’ll be living your best life. If you and your friend are prepared to deviate from the itinerary, and dance in the rain instead, you’ll both be all the happier. And truly, if you let go of high expectations, you’ll find you’ve learned more about your destination than you thought possible.

Traveling with friends sounds like a dream, and it absolutely can be. It requires thought and work, and if you’re willing to put the effort in (highly recommend it!!!), then you are golden, love. Making yourselves compatible is possible, if you aren’t already and are both determined to consider each other when faced with the prospect of a trip together. Prepare for some of the happiest moments of your life!

What are your key tips for traveling with friends? Tell me your experiences in the comments!

It only takes a new setting to send those creative juices into a tizzy. I know my imagination kicks into full gear when I’m traveling, and my brain buzzes endlessly. For those of us whose souls live and breathe artistry, travel is air. It sets us up immediately to run into inspiration, and begs to be a piece of the puzzle. Most times, I’ve learned, it’s the missing piece. And the grand “Aha!” moment when you find it coats the world in gold. If you’re ever in a writing rut, do this: travel.

As a creative writer, characters and stories manifest in crossing paths with different cultures. Writer Anna Quindlen once noted, “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” So, too, is travel. Combined, they are magic. Writing entails observation, and I believe we are most attentive when we are out of our comfort zone, and when we are surrounded by novelty. Description- and setting-wise, travel sets you up for indefinite fascinations to jot down in your notebook.

Then there are the characters. My BFA thesis in my final semester of college was inspired by a visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, where a few young protesters caught my eye and led to the start of an eventual historical fiction novel. (48 pages, woo!) Short stories I have written have taken place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during the Civil War, and present-day on a cycling trip in Dingle, Ireland (loosely based on my own five hour ride). And I have a slew of novel ideas that encompass experiences I’ve had both individually and with my family and friends. You know the old adage write what you know? Knocking off of personal moments, especially those out of your comfort zone, add another dimension to your work.

I like to think of it like this, too: write what you feel. Write what it feels like to be in the midst of the know. Travel makes it exceptionally clear that humans are fundamentally the same. We don’t need to share the same skin, or religions, or traditions, to desire the same emotions and milestones. Engage in conversations with new people, and learn as much about your destination as possible. Understand it as both an outsider and an insider.

Swallowing up mouthfuls of museums, sunsets, and local activities will lend to historical and cultural insights. Sometimes, inspiration strikes at the sight of a personal artifact, or on a guided tour. Even what appears to be the perfect morning will linger in your mind. It’s these sensations of newness that alight the senses and allow your creativity will flourish. Eat specialty desserts. Drink locally produced wine. Take a hike. Do what takes you out of yourself but keeps you so presently grounded.

Writing, it seems, was made for the traveler. It is narratives of humanity, a mirror of ourselves. It opens even the smallest window inside of us to climb through and explore an entirely foreign side of us. Whether to another continent or to your neighboring town, shake away your routine and expose yourself to a whole new world. Carry a journal and scribble down everything. Remember all you can, for yourself and for the stories your imagination begs to be shared.

Returning home from your travels provokes ideas, too, because your perspective on your own customs and truths has shifted, even slightly.

It means that your givens have become whys, your past framed differently in the present. Even if unconsciously, your stories will have that much more meaning because you have grown without trying. But think about the process: how has it affected you? Who are you, the one shedding layers to unveil what’s always been waiting to come out? Where will you go from here? Travel is soul-searching, widening your endless horizons.

I know how much my mind grinds to a halt when nothing new is being produced. Travel sparks creative writing because it demands you to reconcile all you know with all that you want to and should know. It flips your ideals on their heads, or confirms what you believe in greater context. It leaves you reeling in its wonder, inviting thrilling stories to take the stage that move beyond your ordinary. It is art all at once.

How does travel inspire your creative writing? Let me know in the comments!