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.