4/21/2023 MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL Broadway in Atlanta / Fox Theatre
COEUR DU COMMERCE
Every now and then, a movie comes along that razzles and dazzles, impresses with its over-the-top performances and style, but leaves me feeling empty and disappointed due to its lack of emotional connection. Such a movie was 2001’s Moulin Rouge! It was a fast-paced and dizzying look at the Paris Bohemian scene of 1900, filtered through a lens of contemporary pop standards. I loved its ADHD-inspired editing, its choice of songs, and its dazzling vision of a Paris that (really) never was. But its characters left me cold and uninvolved, and its mix of period detail and contemporary music didn’t always work (at least for me).
In 2018, a live musical version hit Broadway, including 17 years of additional Pop Standards and using every trick of stagecraft to create a musical that razzled and dazzled, impressing with its over-the-top performances and style, a musical whose touring company is now energizing the Fox Theatre.
It met my expectations, expressed in my T-Shirt for the night that simply said “Meh!”
To recap the plot, Christian is an American expatriate who moves to Montmartre to experience the artistic life and to engage his songwriting muse. He makes friends with the (real-life) painter Toulouse-Lautrec and the (possibly fictional) Argentinian tango dancer Santiago. His new friends drag him to the famous Moulin Rouge, where he is instantly smitten by its headliner, Satine. But Satine has been promised to The Duke of Monroth by entrepreneur Harold Zidler and must choose between true love and saving the club from financial ruin.
The entire enterprise is bright and colorful, tuneful and fast-paced, and as heartless as Satine, whose professions of love are never believable and whose ultimate fate remains completely unmoving. The show includes some songs from the movie (“Your Song,” “Lady Marmalade,” “Come What May”) and is enhanced by many memorable hits from the intervening years (2001-2018) like “Shut Up and Dance With Me,” “Firework,” “Chandelier,” “All the Single Ladies,” and “Rolling in the Deep.” Each song is really only sampled, each inviting laughs of recognition from the spellbound audience. I suspect only enough of each song is used to avoid paying for the rights, but that’s the cynic in me responding the commerce-driven aura of the production. I do hope Adele and the other songwriters are reaping well-deserved income from each performance.
And that’s my problem with this show. It claims to express the Bohemian ideals of Truth! Freedom! Love! (really the shallow and simplistic philosophies of American Middle Schoolers that most of us learn to embrace in more complexity as we approach adulthood). But in reality the script has a Heart of Commerce, the ideals merely talked about and not exemplified. And, of course, being a “juke box” musical, no highly-paid composers and lyricists were required.
In spite of all this carping, I have to confess to enjoying the experience of watching this show. Some of these songs have been long-time favorites. In addition, the Tony-Winning choreography by Sonya Tayeh is truly spectacular. The Tony-Winning sets (by Derek McLane) and Tony-Winning lighting design (by Justin Townsend) and Tony-Winning costumes (by Catherine Zuber) are all incredible and dazzling and filled with hundreds of “how’d they do that?” moments. The performances, especially by the leads (*), were spot on and incredibly compelling, as was the ensemble work by the large and diverse full cast. I truly had a good time at this show and do not regret the time I spent with it. And to be fair, this show really REALLY appealed to the audience, most of whom bounded to their feet automatically at its conclusion and were heard to comment “Best show I’ve ever seen” as we all filed out, so my quibbling is definitely out-of-the mainstream.
The supreme irony of my enjoyment of this production is that it is probably emblematic of how, at the time, folks left the actual Moulin Rouge – well-satisfied with an evening of guilty pleasure but feeling not a little unclean and in need of an absinthe hangover remedy and probably a regimen of penicillin. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #broadwayatlanta #thefoxtheatre #moulinrougebway)
(*) A stunning Courtney Reed (Broadway’s Aladdin) as Satine, an earnest John Cardoza (Jagged Little Pill) as Christian, a divinely hissable Andrew Brewer as the Duke, a scene-chewing Austin Durant as Harold Zidler, a marvelous Nick Rashad Burroughs (Ike in the original cast of Tina – The Tina Turner Musical) as Toulouse-Lautrec, and a memorable Gabe Martinez as Santiago).
For the record, the original production won ten Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and was nominated for four more.