Moulin Rouge! The Musical is the stage adaptation of the 2001 film by Baz Luhrmann. The film is a favorite of mine and so with that in mind I was both excited and anxious to see this production. There are changes, addition and deletions. Most everything that was new I enjoyed, most of what was omitted I missed. The good news is that you are having such a good time that it isn’t until the walk to the car that you lament that they cut “Like a Virgin” and “One Day I’ll Fly away“. What you ask, could distract you from a missing Madonna song? Probably the most technically elaborate and beautiful production I’ve ever seen. From the moment you enter the theatre you know you are looking at a very expensive production. Before the performance even begins you are blown over by the beauty of the production design. Well at that point, you ain’t seen nothin yet! It makes sense that one of the most visually splendid movies since the turn of the century would also produce an equally spectacular stage adaptation. But underneath all the shine and glitter it is still a story about truth, beauty, freedom, and above all things a story about love.
The story follows Christian an american songwriter who has just arrived in paris. Within hours of his arrival he meets the artist Toulouse-Lautrec and his Argentinian friend Santiago whom he overhears trying to write a song. When he dazzles them with his lyrics they enlist him to pitch his songs to the star of the Moulin Rouge, Satine. If she likes his songs she well help convince the owner of the Moulin Rouge, Harold Zidler to produce the trio’s musical. They go to the Moulin Rouge where Satine mistakes Christian for the Duke she is trying to seduce so he will help Zidler financially, and perhaps elevate her in the world as well. Alone with Christian in her dressing room they fall in love with each other as he sings his song for her. Right before the Duke and Zidler arrive, the mix-up is discovered and to cover his presence, as well as that of Toulouse and Santiago, they convince the Duke that they are there to pitch him on the idea for their musical in hopes that he will finance it. He agrees but in exchange for his financial assistance he wants to own everything, particularly Satine. As the show is being rehearsed Christian and Satine carry on a secret love affair, but the Duke will not be fooled forever.
The songs within the show come from popular music, much of what we hear is new, songs that have come out since the film from artists as varied as Lady Gaga and Fun. But even the songs from the movie like the “Elephant Love Medley” and “Sparkling Diamonds” have additions that enlarge the smile already breaking across your face. Most of the newer music has saturated the popular culture enough that even I have heard of it. But there were a couple of additions that were not familiar such as the mashup of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley and “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele, but I’m certain I’m in the small minority on that front. That said even the musical moments that didn’t ring a bell worked within the story. I was always amazed at the perfection in blending lyrics from different songs into one that Luhrmann achieved in his film. The show carries on that tradition with nearly the same level of success. The additional material helps give the show a freshness and probably increases its accessibility to younger theatergoers who were either small children or unborn at the time of the films release. Hand in hand with the music goes the choreography by Sonya Tayeh which is stunningly good.
Speaking of stunningly good, the cast is just that. Top of the list is Conor Ryan, who showed incredibly range and gave a dynamic performance. One of the small issues I had with the production was that I felt his character went a little dark for too long towards the end of the show. But even in those instances when I felt the writing let him down, he didn’t let the writing down. Courtney Reed was good as Satine, though it felt like the songs were at times stretching her range a smidge. Austin Durant as Zidler was an audience favorite he was the perfect ringmaster for this group of bohemians. Andre ward’s Toulouse-Lautrec wisely chose not to attempt to mimic Lautrec’s diminutive stature, that would have been too restrictive. Ward adds a nice energy as the would be leader of the children of the revolution, adding a lot of humor in the conflict with the Duke over the content of the musical. A big round of applause to all the performers, their voices and movement were all integral to creating this breathtaking experience.
The highest of praise goes to the technical teams on this show starting with the set design by Derek McLane. The shows sets from the streets of Paris to the Moulin Rouge and Satine’s dressing room are gorgeous. The highpoint being the elephant Love Medley where we move from Satine’s dressing room to the clouds above Paris and the Eiffel Tower. Working in close synchronization is the spectacular lighting design and effects by Justin Townsend. Sometimes the lighting can go unnoticed if it’s done well with Moulin Rouge there is no way not to take note of the lighting because it is very showy but also perfect for this show. Costume design by Catherine Zuber is also a easily overlooked category, but again in this case they costume are so bold and beautiful that they cannot help but be noticed and admired. This is a rare show that wows us on every single element of the production.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical is play through June 5th at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Minneapolis. for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/
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