Fox’s 2001 film musical Moulin Rouge came at the dawn of the jukebox musical craze that dominated the aughts in both theater and film. The film’s popularity has grown over the years and stage adaptations have been attempted for the better part of a decade, but the right approach was recently realized via the brand new Broadway show, Moulin Rouge!, one of the hottest tickets currently playing the great white way. The plot is the same, but the immersive theatrics and musical score have been expanded, particularly with songs that debuted after the film. The show is produced by a large number of partners “By special arrangement with Buena Vista Theatrical,” a division of Disney Theatrical that manages properties that Disney doesn’t want their brand closely associated with. Currently in development under this post-Fox acquisition branding are musical adaptations of Mrs. Doubtfire and The Devil Wears Prada.
The show truly starts the moment you enter the Al Hirschfeld Theater, where the walls have been covered in red velvet and light fixtures swapped out with ones that tie you into the story, such as the windmill sconces. The proscenium expands to the sides of the theater, with a rotating light up windmill on stage right and a giant elephant statue on stage left. Audience members can upgrade their seats to sit between the stage and catwalk. Actors take the stage prior to the official start of the show, eyeing the audience for potential private patrons, smoking cigarettes, and even performing short acts of burlesque. Without any kind of overture, the show starts suddenly as Harold Zidler arrives, flips a switch, and the heart-shaped curtains raise to reveal a quartet of scantily clad ladies who welcome you to the Moulin Rouge with “Lady Marmalade.”
The show delays Satine’s entrance as long as possible, building up excitement and suspense for the “Sparkling Diamond”’s grand descent from the heavens, Teddy Bara style. The roles of Christian’s fellow writers and artists are expanded to accomplish this with a full musical medley about the “Bohemian revolution,” but the absynth sequence has been pushed to the second act. So has one of the film’s original songs, David Bowie’s “Nature Boy,” which is very much in the show but no longer sets the tone at the top of it.
When Satine finally arrives, she descends from the ceiling above the audience on a swing for the “Sparkling Diamonds” medley, which has been expanded to include the James Bond ballad “Diamonds Are Forever” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Satine is brought to life by Karen Olivo, who makes the character more bold than Nicole Kidman’s take in the film. She uses her big voice to belt most of the songs as well, turning each one into an ovation-worthy performance.
The staging was among the most incredible I’ve ever seen in a theater. The set starts the show with cascading heart-shaped wings that magically retract to create the city of Paris. It also becomes backstage of the Moulin Rouge with a brick wall and theater doors materializing out of nowhere during one of the many quick set changes. The sides of the stage also get utilized to distract with bits of action and dialogue while these major stage overhauls occur. But perhaps the most magical moment is when they recreate the twinkling sky and Paris skyline from Baz Luhrmann’s film during “Elephant Love Medley” where Satine and Christian finish the song holding onto the top spire of the Eiffel Tower as it spins high above the city. There are so many dazzling, hypnotizing, and bewitching moments throughout the show and that one is a perfect way to wrap up the first act before intermission, where the audience buzzed and delighted in all that had just happened on stage.
Beloved added songs include “Toxic” by Britney Spears, “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, “Chandelier” by Sia, “Firework” by Katie Perry, “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, “Hey Ya” by OutKast, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston, “Raise Your Glass” by P!nk, and “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. Most of the comedy in the show comes from some of the added songs, such as when Christian includes Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” the theme song from Dawson’s Creek, as a counter to one of Satine’s rebuttals. Audiences can also expect to be Rick-rolled at some point during the show.
I got to experience four new shows over a long weekend in New York City, including the limited run Public Theater production of Disney’s Hercules. Moulin Rouge! was far and away the best show I’ve seen in 2019. I expect it to enjoy a long and successful run with sold out tours and major awards at the next Tonys. Cheers to the bohemian revolution!
I give Moulin Rouge! 5 out of 5 “Can Can Can”’s.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.