Moulin Rouge! becomes an extravagant, head-spinning Broadway musical
The spectacular spectacular, the ring-ding razzle dazzle, the gitchie gitchie ya-ya da-da: It’s all in Moulin Rouge!, a Broadway musical so stuffed with songs and sequins and sheer, outrageous excess that it’s hard to catch a breath for most of its two-hour-and-45-minute runtime (at least not without inhaling an errant feather or a spangled scrap of confetti).
Adapted and somehow further embellished from Bahz Luhrman’s wildly flamboyant 2001 film of the same name — the exclamation point is both included and continuously implied — Rouge! adds dozens of additional songs from the modern pop cannon, and a few new old ones too. (If there’s not a special Tony for negotiating licensing, they should invent one for whoever got notoriously recalcitrant artists like Jack White and Outkast to say yes; most likely, music supervisor Justin Levine.)
Luhrman’s basic storyline remains largely intact: A boy (the aspiring composer Christian, played by American actor Aaron Tveit in place of Ewan McGregor’s starry-eyed Brit); a girl (the beguiling courtesan Satine, with Tony winner Karen Olivo stepping into Nicole Kidman’s corset), and the doomed love they cannot deny — all set against the smoky, cancan-dancing demimonde of fin-de-siècle Paris.
Director Alex Timbers’ production is immersive from the first moment; sword swallowers and kohl-eyed dancers in fishnets prowling the stage like uncaged cats even as the audience still mills before the curtain. And the sets, by Derek McLane, are a genuine wonder: filagreed hearts stacked in dense, stage-framing layers; massive windmill and elephant flanking the balconies; ingenious changes from bedroom to boulevard that move so quickly, they feel more like actual magic than mere sleight of hand. The costumes, by Catherine Zuber, are delectably excessive too: miles of satin and chiffon and lady-of-the-night finery, tailored to squeeze every last ribcage.
If the whole thing threatens at times to succumb to the manic jukebox glitz of its constant medleys — “Bad Romance” is woven into “Seven Nation Army,” “Toxic,” “Tainted Love,” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” to name just one marathon moment — the commitment of the prodigiously talented cast keeps the narrative ground in human connection, pinning a heart to all those pelvic thrusts and high kicks. And John Logan’s book crackles with finger-snap witticisms and physical comedy, though he does lose some of his first act’s momentum in the more pensive, sketchily drawn second.
Tveit (Catch Me If You Can) and Olivo (West Side Story, In the Heights) are both gorgeous, full-throated performers, even if their chemistry mostly needs to be taken on faith; the central romance doesn’t so much burn as maintain a low, respectful boil.
As the Duke who wants to own the Moulin Rouge, and by extension the affections of Satine, Tam Mutu (Doctor Zhivago) is much more directly malevolent than his snitty onscreen counterpart; six-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein steps zestily into the portly pants of ringmaster Harold Zidler; and Sahr Ngaujah and Ricky Rojas mug and parry as Christian’s boho-revolutionary sidekicks Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago, respectively.
For all the built-in tragedy — Satine’s fate is written in the blood she coughs steadily into her white handkerchief — Moulin feels like theater as both Mardis Gras carnival and pop-song celebration; an overstimulating and occasionally uneven one, maybe, but so stacked with extravagant, crowd-pleasing effort and ingenuity, it’s easy to believe that it could, like the original movie’s show within a show, run for 50 years. B+
Moulin Rouge! The Musical