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Theater Review: ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ misses mark with love story despite familiar visuals

The cast of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” performs on an illuminating set resembling the real-life Parisian club. Based on Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film of the same name, the musical follows the love story between a cabaret performer and a bohemian writer. (Courtesy of Moulin Rouge! The Musical)

“Moulin Rouge! The Musical”

June 30 - Sept. 4 

The Pantages Theatre

$39-169

By Talia Sajor

July 21, 2022 2:25 p.m.

“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is sparkling as a partial diamond in the rough.

Running until Sept. 4 and featuring alumnus Camden Gonzales as the associate choreographer, the musical adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!” has officially been transplanted from Broadway to Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre. But while “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” successfully translates the flamboyant visuals of Luhrmann’s film onto the stage, it unfortunately leaves the heart-wrenching storyline of two star-crossed lovers in shambles.

The stage show, following the same format as the film, tells a love story set in Paris between star performer of the Moulin Rouge troupe Satine (Courtney Reed) and hopeless romantic songwriter Christian, played by swing member Jack Cahill-Lemme in the matinee performance July 16. When Satine confuses Christian for the powerful and wealthy Duke of Monroth (David Harris), she enters a secret love affair with Christian while also posing as the Duke’s courtesan to save the Moulin Rouge from bankruptcy. This leaves Satine wrestling with the decision to either elope with her one true love or live a life of luxury with the Duke, while also grappling with a rapidly progressing illness.

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Upon entering the theater, audiences are immediately pulled into the vibrancy of the Moulin Rouge. Illuminated layered hearts gleam center stage with the signature windmill and a giant, decorative elephant placed on both sides in an all-red color scheme, a nearly identical set reminiscent of the original film.

Clad in luxurious laced corsets and red feathered headpieces, the four-piece performance ensemble – Nini, Baby Doll, Arabia and La Chocolat – deliver a powerhouse introduction of LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade.” The musical maintains its high-energy starting note with club owner Harold Zidler (Austin Durant) breaking the fourth wall and welcoming the crowd to the show, providing a truly immersive experience of a real-life Parisian cabaret.

The production continues to dazzle with its extravagant visuals and entertainment factor throughout its dual acts. From the Moulin Rouge performers’ varying girdled assemblages to Satine’s signature crimson trailed gown, the intricate costuming paired with chaotic-looking but elaborate choreography stays true to Luhrmann’s directorial style. Along with the seamless transitions between scenes, the art direction is deserving of a standing ovation in itself.

While the production value appears to be the clear focus of the creatives, both the writing and song choices, on the other hand, are left in the dust. The cast – namely Reed and Cahill-Lemme – make do with the material given, as evidenced by their beautifully harmonized vocals, but they lack the romantic chemistry and development needed to effectively pull off the love story with wordy and unnatural dialogue.

One of the defining characteristics of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” while also being one of its faults, is its classification as a jukebox musical, which is known for a soundtrack comprised of popular contemporary songs instead of an original score. In an attempt to modernize the 2001 film’s discography by adding hits from the 2010s such as WALK THE MOON’s “Shut Up and Dance,” Lorde’s “Royals” and Katy Perry’s “Firework,” the musical sadly chops up to be an awkward blend of an homage to 21st-century popular culture and a 1900s romantic tragedy.

However, songs such as “El Tango de Roxanne,” a rendition of the Police’s “Roxanne,” and “Elephant Love Medley,” a combination of love songs going as far back as the 1960s, successfully redeem the jukebox approach. The few compositions are fully transformed to effectively encapsulate the bohemian, burlesque style of the show, instead of obvious remnants of the original, modern-day arrangements.

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The performance concludes with the tragic end to Satine’s performance and life. What is meant to be the climatic and tear-jerking finale merely ends with a haphazard scene of Satine dramatically collapsing into Christian’s arms. The abrupt end to the pair’s love story is reminiscent of Tony’s death in “West Side Story,” but it lacks the same emotional resonance as it finishes with a rushed recital of cheesy lines that can be heard in any other stereotypical romantic drama in the wake of a protagonist’s death.

As the curtains come to a close, the diluted narrative, to a degree, is compensated for with the electrifying and dynamic experience provided by the cohesively talented cast. Despite the flawed decisions to capitalize on the awe-inducing effect of the production and the essence of the original film, “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” does accomplish what it conceivably set out to do – assuring that audiences have a good time.

Which in the end, is what the Moulin Rouge is all about.

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Talia Sajor
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