The cast of the North American tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.
Whether you’ve seen the 2001 film, Moulin Rouge!, or not, you’re probably familiar with some of the imagery, songs, and costumes. They’ve pervaded modern culture since the movie's debut. The stage musical version, however, didn’t premiere until 2018. Despite that and despite the fact that the show is set in 1899, the story, which focuses on a struggling singer/ sex worker, Satine, and the struggling club she works for, still holds up quite well. In some ways, with the modern music woven in, it’s even better. It’s a production that’s thoughtful, scandalous, empowering, and seductive. In short, it’s a whole lot of wonderful, mixed-up things presented all at once to create a fun, frenzied show with plenty of heart underneath the raunch.
The latest iteration, onstage now at DPAC under the direction of Alex Timbers, features a book by John Logan paired with music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements by Justin Levine. While it’s hard to top that creative team, Derek McLane goes all out with the scenic design. Even before the show begins, viewers are treated to an explosion of red and bright lights, instantly evoking a night club feel. There’s also a huge circus elephant on one side of the stage and, fittingly, an ever-turning windmill on the other. It perfectly mimics Paris’ real Moulin Rouge, while still capturing a decadent, anything-goes vibe that’s all its own.
And, as the story begins, that “anything goes” feel stays put. The show’s heroine, Satine, portrayed by an effervescent, raven-haired Courtney Reed, dazzles the audience early on with her pitch-perfect “Diamonds are Forever” number, delivered while she’s decked out in a glittering costume. But that’s just the first of many songs. Everything from “Royals” to “The Sound of Music” to “Firework” gets its moment in the sun, resulting in a fun, unexpected mash-up of melodies.
Those songs also work together to tell a powerful story. What starts as a tale of mistaken identity—Satine thinks the bumbling bohemian Christian (Christian Douglas at Friday's performance) is the Duke she’s supposed to seduce—evolves into a story of pursuing true love (and some self-love too) against all odds. Luckily, these two “lovers” have amazing onstage chemistry. They flirt and song battle in a way that’s both engaging and endearing. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that both Reed and Douglas have impeccable vocal skills.
The two leads are backed by an equally strong supporting cast, including Nick Rashad Burroughs in a charming portrayal of Toulouse-Lautrec, and an appropriately dastardly Andrew Brewer as the cruel Duke of Monroth.
Other standouts include Austin Durant as the wheedling Harold Zidler and Libby Lloyd as mesmerizing dancer Nini. She kicks, leaps, and twirls in ways that defy gravity and highlight Sonya Tayeh’s stunning choreography. Speaking of which, the “Backstage Romance” number, which opens the second act, is a visual feat in and of itself. If you’re lucky enough to see it live, try not to blink. It’s that good.
You’ll also want to keep your eyes open for Justin Townsend’s sometimes-eerie lighting effects, the beautiful painted sets that showcase the streets of Paris, and the over-the-top, alluring costumes, designed by Catherine Zuber. In fact, just keep your eyes open period—there’s a new and glorious spectacle to see at every turn. And, while the ending might be bittersweet, the journey to get there is worth every single second.
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