On National Tour, 'Moulin Rouge: The Musical; Remains Spectacular

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday July 14, 2022

Conor Ryan and Courtney Reed in "Moulin Rouge: The Musical"
Conor Ryan and Courtney Reed in "Moulin Rouge: The Musical"  (Source:Michael Murphy)

The Tony Best Musical winner "Moulin Rouge: The Musical" is another movie to be made into a musical, but this time it is a movie-musical transformed into a stage musical. While that idea alone might make some groan, you can wipe the frowns off your faces because this stage adaptation is a dazzling, dizzying, sparkling treat. 

Moving the show from a smaller NYC Broadway house might have diminished the intimate scope of the production, but the wider proscenium only adds to the spectacle of it all. Still as rich in color and light as the Broadway production, "Moulin Rouge"appears almost like a stadium show, with audiences moving their heads to the music and cheering as if their favorite rock stars just finished their favorite song. (The Gaga/Britney/Eurythmics mash-up "Backstage Romance" got a two-minute standing ovation on opening night.)

Based on Baz Luhrmann's iconic movie, the stage version follows the same story of Moulin Rouge's sparkling diamond, Satine (Courtney Reed), falling for bohemian song-writer Christian (Conor Ryan) while engaged to the nefarious Duke (David Harris). Cleverly, the story has been reorganized and streamlined to make it more theatrical, and the music altered to include more and newer music.

Sure, songs and medleys from the original film are still present, but tunes from P!nk, Katy Perry, Beyoncé, and more are added, mixed in, and switched out to great effect. What this does is keeps the story and the music fresh for those that might be very familiar with the 2001 cult classic. Rather than repeat all the same lines and story beats (like, for example, "Pretty Woman: The Musical"), book writer John Logan has taken Luhrmann and Craig Pearce's script and rejiggered certain aspects to keep it fresh and, sometimes, even surprising. 

One of the nice changes is that the Duke is now a sexy, smoldering creature that is more villainous than a buffoon. Toulouse-Lautrec (Andre Ward) has more to do with a nice backstory involving Satine, while the Argentinian Santiago (Gabe Martinez) has his own prominent romance this time around. Even Harold Zigler (Austin Durant) takes a bigger role as Satine's substitute father.

While the editing of the film is what kept it moving, here Sonya Tayeh's choreography, Alex Timbers' direction, and the lighting design by Justin Townsend make this a true spectacle in every sense of the word. The sound design by Peter Hylenski is also to be noted, and while much has been made of the limited orchestra (as most of the backing tracks are pre-recorded), it all works here as an audio/visual double whammy of sight and sound.

 

The entire cast is fantastic, with Ward, Martinez, and Durant the supporting standouts. Harris is also excellent as the towering Duke, combining raw sexuality and danger to the character. 

 

Ryan has a flawless, even effortless voice as the energetic and earnestly sexy Christian. With his shaggy hair and lithe body, he commands the stage in a way that pulls the audience into his innocence and charm. Reed is a strong and confident Satine, although during the first half of the performance her voice wasn't as assured as it was once she got going. When she did, the two were a terrific match.

 

In some ways, this is a theater piece for general audiences from all over to enjoy. They'll dig the nods to their favorite pop songs, the eye-catching sets, and the powerhouse vocals and dancers on display. But while it has that "audience pleasing" outline that made shows like "Mamma Mia" and "Jersey Boys" hits, it shouldn't be written off as simple audience-baiting. There's so much artistry here it's almost too much to take in for one viewing. And, in fact, I suspect this show will have a lot of repeat visitors over the next few months. 

 

This is the show to see this summer, and not just because we can-can-can, but because we want-want-want to. It's daring, delightful, dashing, and downright delicious.

"Moulin Rouge: The Musical" runs through September 4th at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. For tickets, visit BroadwayinHollywood.com. The show will continue at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa from November 9th through the 27th. For information and tickets visit www.SCFTA.org. 

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.