Moulin Rouge! The Musical Deserves the Exclamation Point

If your winter needs the biggest, grandest, purest in spectacle, your search is done. You need Moulin Rouge! The Musical. The hit Broadway show’s North American tour performs at the Paramount Theatre through New Year’s Day. 

 

In some ways it’s shocking that it took so long for Moulin Rouge!, the 2001 film by Baz Luhrmann, to become a musical. The blockbuster hit didn’t do much for me (unpopular opinion), but its visual splendor, auditory fireworks, and dance-floor revelry are undeniable. It’s the sort of unabashed spectacle that’s ready-made for a stage musical.

Well, Moulin Rouge! The Musical has arrived in Seattle. And it takes the highest expectations of spectacle and delivers on them five-fold.

The show (book by John Logan) is light on story: a visiting artist falls for the crown jewel dancer at the Moulin Rouge club in Paris, and they pursue a romance that may be doomed from the start: not only is she expected to perform for any man with enough cash to burn, she’s quite literally sold over to a wealthy investor who wants her as his own. With a plot that skips over nuance and plot twists, the show is free to focus unabashedly on the spectacle.

Moulin Rouge! is a jukebox musical, but an incomparable one: it crams in segments, of varying lengths, from some 70 hit songs. Energy-filled contemporary dance (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh) co-exists effortlessly with Paris’ own classic can-can. Sia’s recent hit Chandelier narrates a divine absinthe trip. A mix of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance and Britney Spears’ Toxic, opening the second act, is a full-blown dance marathon; the crowd goes wild. The irresistible Lady Marmalade opens the show with a roar, and returns to finish it out.

But it isn’t all song and dance. All hail Justin Townsend (lighting design), Catherine Zuber (costume design), and Derek McLane (set design): the visuals in this show are spectacular. Even before the show starts, viewers are in for a treat: the Paramount’s auditorium is transformed, from its stately elegance to over the top, lush, and fabulous. Layers of heart-shaped arches frame the stage in splendor. Protruding from the boxes are a lit-up, churning windmill on one side, and an elephant on the other.

That visual grandeur upon entry is a sign of things to come. The green wash of an absinthe ride with blips of clarity. A bold red that’s as much in heat as it is in love. Believable backdrops lead beyond the fashionable dance floor, down cobblestone streets, or to an upstairs dressing room, behind lush drapery in the belly of the elephant. Transitions are a snap, aided by screens and velvet curtains that are as much part of the feel as they are necessary set pieces. The costumes are gorgeous, and boundless: with around 250 costumes, the dressers are also magic.

Befitting a Broadway tour, they’ve compiled a deep roster of performers (which came in handy, as some principal cast members were out). The change-ups weren’t apparent: down to the absurdly big dance numbers, everyone knew their stuff.

I was positively giddy to see André Ward — who has done lots of things, but I know him best for giving Abby a grandiose welcome into the lavish “Appointments” division of the DMV on Broad City — live and in-person, and he did not disappoint as famed artist Toulouse-Lautrec. Among the others most fun to watch: the impossibly high kicks of Libby Lloyd (as Nini); her character’s love interest, Santiago (Gabe Martínez); and Austin Durant (as Harold Zidler), who made for a grand host.

In the leading roles, Courtney Reed (as Satine) and understudy Andrew Brewer (as Christian) have decent chemistry and their vocals mesh well together. Principal standby Denzel Tsopnang is a smooth and steely villain (the Duke of Monroth).

With lavish visuals, grand choreography, irresistible pop hits and outsized mega-mixes (arrangement by Justin Levine), and tight direction (by Alex Timbers), Moulin Rouge! The Musical will dash away your winter chill.

Bottom line? This show is Hot! Hot! Hot!

And somehow that song — by Arrow, made famous by Buster Poindexter — is just about the only catchy pop number that didn’t find its way into the show.

 

Read an interesting saga of procuring rights to all the music in the NY Times, here

Find out more about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and other artists of the Moulin Rouge’s heyday in the excellent 1952 film, ‘Moulin Rouge’ (free on Pluto TV).  


Moulin Rouge! The Musical runs through 1/1/2023 at the Paramount Theatre in Downtown Seattle. Tickets are $57+, here. Accessibility notes: main restrooms downstairs and upstairs are gendered and multi-stall, with gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms on the main floor. Theatre and some common areas are wheelchair accessible. ASL-interpreted performances on 12/22 (evening) and 12/31 (matinee), open captioned performance on 12/18 (evening), and audio described performance on 12/18 (matinee); see notes on ticketing page for best accessible seating options.

Run time: 2 hours 35 minutes, with intermission.

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.