Moulin Rouge review

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

This was one of the iconic lines of the 2001 romantic drama film, Moulin Rouge! — a film recently adapted into a stage musical, currently playing in Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

Recently, I spent a weekend in New York City, and had the privilege of seeing Moulin Rouge! The Musical, and it was an experience to remember.

Upon entering the theatre, I was caught off guard by the sheer bold grandeur of the set. The entire house was bathed in red light. The stage itself was lined with cabaret lights, and the words “Moulin Rouge” hung in the middle of the stage in giant neon letters. The elephant stood above stage right, and the windmill spun slowly above stage left. In the center, the stage extended out to a can-can table, with two alcoves cut out for exclusive seating.

The Al Hirschfeld Theatre is a relatively small, intimate theatre, and standing in spot 13, I could see nearly everything — the overhang of the mezzanine just barely blocking the windmill and part of the elephant. A shift in lighting signaled the start of the show, and for the next 2.5 hours, the audience was plunged into a tale of artful desire and fateful fortune.

Throughout this experience, actors used the aisles liberally, frequently entering and exiting from the leftmost and rightmost aisles, so that standing where I was, the actors that passed were often less than five feet away, something which made the experience feel closer and more immersive.

Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo did a phenomenal job of bringing their characters to life. Tveit perfectly balanced Christian’s optimistic charisma and stubborn confidence in happy endings, walking the line between naive love and passionate madness. Olivo splendidly portrayed Satine’s persevering, but weathered protectiveness and resigned, but enduring strength, exuding that sense of sybaritic mystique and sensitive confidence.

The entire company did well to bring out the dynamic interplay between personalities and classes, emphasizing the larger-than-life feeling the show inhabits.

Staying true to its status as a jukebox musical, Moulin Rouge! retains some of the songs used in the film soundtrack from artists such as Madonna, Nat King Cole, and Elton John, while expanding its listing — more than doubling it, in fact — to include music from the likes of REO Speedwagon and the Rolling Stones, alongside contemporary pop icons such as Katy Perry, Adele, and Beyoncé.

The integration of songs from different genres and eras was considerably well-done, and the choice of music often played into the fun, comedic enthusiasm of the show. The energy from the music did seem to be slightly excessive at times, especially during the more serious scenes, in that the tempo of the music was sometimes distinct from the graveness it was meant to portray. However, the exaggeration still worked in the context of the overall superfluousness the play itself intends to embody. Overall, the song choices and their incorporation into the musical could certainly be considered unorthodox, but in a way that I feel exhibits creativity and artistic wit.

On the more technical side of things, the show’s lighting and costume design were both extremely well-done. The mix between the cabaret-style lights, strobe lights, neon lights, and LEDs implemented by lighting designer Justin Townsend was instrumental in moving the story. The distinction between the bold vivid palette used for the Moulin Rouge performers versus the muted colors of the Bohemian artists and the pastel of the aristocracy, all courtesy of costume designer Catherine Zuber, emphasized the lifestyle and symbolic differences in the characters.

At its core, Moulin Rouge! was the epitome of spectacle. It intentionally played into the absurdity of extravagance, and did so in spectacular style. The contrast between the outward lavish brilliance of the show and the underlying tragedy it narrates made it all the more compelling, and the blend of ecstasy and despair along with fervent infatuation and desperate belief made it a truly remarkable masterpiece.