MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL is one dazzling and decadent concoction of a jukebox musical. Based upon Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film, John Logan’s book and director Alex Timbers’s production keeps the fun — and the pop hits — coming. While the musical’s light on storyline (as was the original film, frankly), it’s big on spectacle. MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL is an opulent and beautiful show, from Catherine Zuber’s stunning and shiny costumes that have so many sequins you can practically see your own reflection to Sonya Tayeh’s gorgeous choreography that presents marvelous tableaus through dance. This is the kind of show where audience members will see their money on stage in the best way possible. MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL inhabits the “go big or go home” philosophy in the way it delivers entertainment to audiences.
Logan’s book serves as connective tissue for the parade of earworms in the musical, and the book writing is at its most inventive when he finds creative ways to interweave songs ranging from Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” to Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” into the show. The musical preserves many of the iconic songs showcased in the film, including the original “Come What May,” but also delightfully inserts a number of recognizable pop songs that debuted since 2001. MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL’s plot is as airy as a French macaron. It transports audiences to an anachronistic 1899 Paris (ostensibly the characters reside there, but there was certainly no Lady Gaga or Beyoncé at that time). Harold Ziedler (Austin Durant, equal parts showy and yet also somehow sweet) presides over the eponymous Moulin Rouge nightclub where the four dancers La Chocolat (Keely Beirne), Arabia (Nicci Claspell), Baby Doll (Andrés Quintero), and Nini (Libby Lloyd, one of the most astounding dancers in the company) open the show each night—and literally open the musical with the famous “Lady Marmalade.” The Moulin Rouge’s crown jewel is Satine (Courtney Reed), who’s the leading lady and a shining chanteuse. She catches the eye of Christian (Conor Ryan), an impoverished writer newly arrived in Paris in search of adventure and love. He quickly joins forces with the Bohemians Santiago (Gabe Martínez) and Toulouse-Lautrec (André Ward) who espouse the ideals of “Truth Beauty Freedom Love!” —the show’s paper-thin (but amusing) battle cry. Alas, the Duke of Monroth (David Harris, rightfully sinister and smirky) does not share those values — but rather indicates he will invest in Ziedler’s struggling Moulin Rouge in exchange for Satine’s hand. Satine ultimately must choose between the financial stability of a life with the smarmy Duke or a real romance with Christian — all while keeping the fact that she’s dying of consumption under wraps. The plot might seem overstuffed, but it’s all easy to follow—and again, the story is really just a way to connect all of the earworms together.
While MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL could be too sugary sweet, the production owns its goal of entertaining audiences. I was ready to embrace the musical as pure spectacle, and for that reason, I had a grand time. Likewise, the talent of this touring cast is no joke. They milk the opulence, the pop hits, and Tayeh’s glorious choreography for all it’s worth. Reed is a formidable performer; her vocals are ethereal (fitting, as she originated the role of Princess Jasmine in ALADDIN on Broadway) but also powerful. Reed’s Satine is charming and commanding when she needs to be, but she also shows us the proverbial heart of gold underneath the character’s poised exterior. Ryan plays Christian’s heart-on-his-sleeve naivete with gumption, and his raspy yet polished tone fits his character’s songs perfectly. While Reed and Ryan harmonize beautifully when singing together, especially in the act one finale, they don’t display much chemistry. I individually buy their character arcs, but they don’t quite sell the romance collectively. That said, their performances are both standouts on their own, and they make it easy to root for them.
MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL is glittering, decadent, escapist fun, chock full of pop hits and dazzling choreography sequences and visual marvels. While it may not make you believe in the Bohemian Ideals, it will make you believe in the capacity for pure entertainment and spectacle that this well-orchestrated, larger-than-life jukebox musical provides.
The national tour of MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL plays Broadway In Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre through May 14, 2022. Tickets start at $52.50. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy